Whether you want to sound like Metallica or Bruno Mars, a good rhythm section is the backbone to any good band. There are so many benefits to improving your rhythm section from simply wanting a good groove or you driving listeners to get up and dance. The best bands in every genre of music can be distinguished by their solid rhythm section. Creating a dynamic rhythm section is the foundation of a good band. These five tips will give you advice on how to improve rhythm and timing and build strong rhythms!
Keep it Simple
This is the best place to start is to simply learn to play together and keep a steady tempo. As a solid rhythmic foundation, each player needs to be individually responsible for his or her own timing, intonation, syncopation, and overall knowledge of the tune. If the players understand the driving musical force of that particular song, and their place within it, it will help them to keep a steady tempo as a unified band. This is an example of every instrument and musician serving a distinct purpose and serving the song, together.
Embrace Call & Response
Implementing and installing “call and response” in your music tool kit, can instantly take everything your band is doing to the next level. The idea is simple: a statement is made or a question asked, and the response or answer follows. Sometimes the response is simply a repetition of the leader’s call, and sometimes it’s a traditional statement of affirmation. You hear this in music of all kinds – the back and forth musical ‘dialogue’, is what’s called “call and response.” For some in-depth looks at different types of “call and response”, check out this great article from FlyPaper on Soundfly to break down where it happens and what to listen for. Musicians can often create an extremely propulsive, syncopated sound precisely because they’re not seizing every opportunity to fill the repertoire by themselves. This is a powerful, yet subtle, example that sometimes it’s not what you play, but what you don’t play that creates the forward momentum of a truly great rhythm section. The cohesion between a successful call and response could be described as a high level of empathy and listening to one another, which will result in some truly dynamic sounds.
Contrast Vocals with Rhythmic Phrases
If you look up contrast in the dictionary, you’ll find the following definition: the state of being strikingly different from something else, typically something in juxtaposition or close association. It’s the concept of having two elements, which differ significantly from each other. Rhythm is one element that can really come alive with the contrast principle. For instance, choosing shorter note lengths in your verses and bridge, and longer ones in your chorus. They manage to avoid chaos because all the parts are well engineered to create an uncluttered finished product. And most importantly, there’s still plenty of space for the vocals. The rhythmic contrast principle works in almost any genre of music, from Classical to hip hop and modern day pop. If you find that your own songs feel like they are lacking and you can’t pinpoint why, check out the rhythms you’ve been using, and see if there are ways to add some contrast vocals between the verse and the chorus.
Build on The Bassline
In most bands, a combination of drums, bass, guitar, percussion, and keys make up the rhythm section. With just about every groove, you have the choice to keep it simple or make it more complex. In dense musical situations, keeping things simple will make room for other parts to fit in, which is always a great idea. But it can also be good to create something complex that works together with other parts as well. Particularly for basslines, one of the most challenging things to work out is how the drums will interact with the rhythm to make music that achieves something specific, without creating a power struggle. When writing music, it’s also important to consider that perfect balance between bass and drum parts that will be predictable, those that will be complex, and of course, those that converge to create a solid groove. Although moments of complete unison between drums and bass are necessary for a song to groove and utilize cohesion, total unison throughout an entire tune doesn’t afford the players any freedom to add embellishments to their parts. It also prevents the song from creating any kind of tension and release, a key aspect of evocative songwriting and groove-crafting.
Let the Groove Flow
Being adaptable and versatile while playing will help create a flow the whole group can get on board with. When trying to cultivate a truly great rhythm section, musicians should try to remember that, as rhythm players, they are accompanying 80% of the time, and drummers or bass players are accompanying even more than that. If you spend a lot of time in a power struggle and want to lead, not only will it be hard to ever attain a unified rhythm, it will also be hard to find that groove flow. Being able to adapt to your musical environment is extremely important. Whether it’s the style you’re playing, the skill level of musicians you are playing with, or the physical environment you are playing in, a good rhythm section player needs to rise above all of it. So leave your ego at the door, and get ready to play as a band and not a soloist.
Now that you know how to improve rhythm and timing, what tips are young most excited about integrating into your process?