Often times when I'm writing or producing some music on my computer I tend to follow the usual and annoying pattern "standard" beat pattern, like when you have a metronome that ticks and you start or change a phrase exactly on that given beat, no matter what is your marking ( 4/4, 8/8, ... ) this result in a boring composition.

There is an exercise that I can practice to drop this mindset ?

I would like to acquire the mindset behind antiphase, backbeat and syncopated accents.

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    Do you play 'real' instruments, or is it all 'virtual'?
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 7:52
  • @Tim I have a real MIDI keyboard and I was used to the play the piano when I was a little kid, but I basically forgot everything about it. Now it's pretty much all about composing with virtual sheets and MIDI keyboard. Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 14:45
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    Given your followup questions about waveforms and musical notation, you may need instruction in music theory and composition that is too broad for a single question on Music: Practice & Theory. We can help with the details, but if you are unfamiliar with the relationships between waveforms and rhythms, or with the music notation for rhythm, it might be a good idea to enroll in a local music class. Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 19:38
  • I have a large book of #1 hits, I haven't checked, but I'm going to bet it's predominantly 4/4. I don't understand whats so annoying about that. On the other hand, Pyramid Song doesn't sound like 4/4 to me (I wouldn't know if it is, or what it is if it isn't), it sounds like it has a very atypical rhythm. I can't say that's the only reason people would like it though. Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 13:12

5 Answers 5


Several things.

First and foremost -- I cannot stress this enough -- we express ourselves in the idioms of the music we listen to. If you want to start having more rhythmically interesting inspirations of your own, you need to be filling your ears with rhythmically interesting music. If you're not already doing this, start compiling collections of music that has the rhythmic interest you are aspiring to, and listen to it lots, especially in casual contexts like while driving or in the background while posting to StackExchange.

Second, start playing music like that. Get these rhythms into your body. Learn them by doing them.

Third, start analyzing the rhythm of pieces which strike you as rhythmically interesting. That is, when you encounter a piece that strikes you as rhythmically interesting, get the score, and spend some time thinking about how it works. Maybe start a binder of such inspirational exemplars.

Then, start setting yourself formal exercises that employ rhythms other than the ones you are finding boring and pedestrian. Start with the basics: you're tired of 4/4? Set yourself the assignment of writing something in 3/4. Or writing five somethings in 3/4. Don't know where to start? Go listen to a bunch of waltzes. Next up, 6/8: go write some jigs. After than, 9/8 (slipjigs, if you need examples). Then get really crazy: 5/4. 7/4. 10/8.

Then start assigning yourself to write to the more interesting compound rhythms you find. For instance "America" from the musical "West Side Story" is a famous example of the hemiola syncopation in modern music, alternating bars of 6/8 with 3/4: set yourself to writing your own piece in 6/8|3/4. If you are having trouble coming up with something original, set yourself to doing it in a different mode or key.

This isn't just for varieties of time signature; anything rhythmic that strikes your fancy, set yourself the exercise of writing something that uses it. "Hey, this piece uses the quarter-half-quarter syncopation in 4/4 a lot; I'll go try that out."

When you start out, probably a lot of what you write will sound like crap. That's okay. This, too, is a form of practice. Composing is just like with playing an instrument: the more you do it, the better it will get. Your mistakes will inform your inquiry into how these things work, and how you can use them yourself.

  • Could you suggest some practical exercises ? Especially if I can look for some technical details like Hz and phase of the given waveform, I would like to study this with an analytical approach if possible otherwise please suggest your own method. Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 2:21
  • Sure, but rather answer in the general: what genre/style/instrument do you work in? ETA: There may be genres of electronica for which analysis on the level of Hz and waveform will be fruitful, but I'm thinking of music theory analysis. How you pursue that can be different depending on which musical tradition you're working in. Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 4:32
  • I actually list to a lot of electronica, could give me some practical advise or hint on how to analyze this kind of music ? Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 14:52
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    @user Waveform analysis might be interesting for some electronica, but it's not really related to rhythm, so it'd be a good idea to ask about that as a separate question. Suggested title: “What can I learn from waveform analysis of electronica?” with an emphasis in the question body on applying the information to music composition. Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 22:31
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    @user2485710 Sorry for the delay. The single most useful thing I think you could do is learn to notate rhythm in modern musical notation -- both learn to read what other people have written and learn to hear music and write down what you hear. This will teach you a method of thinking about rhythm analytically, and it's a form of study which is readily available and probably something you can learn for free from the internet. Commented May 2, 2014 at 16:22

When I studied music composition, one of our basic exercises was to compose rhythms without melody. This forces you to develop rhythms that are interesting in their own right. You can then develop the rhythms into melodies, or you can perform them on percussion or by scat singing. Or you can simply use it as an exercise to train your rhythmic composition skills.

  • do you have any online references ? video, articles, pdfs ? Could you suggest some practical exercises ? Especially if I can look for some technical details like Hz and phase of the given waveform, I would like to study this with an analytical approach if possible otherwise please suggest your own method. Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 2:19
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    @user I don't understand what you mean by "Hz and phase of the given waveform." Rhythms are not waves. They are patterns like "dat, dat, batatat, dat, mm, dat-tat." Build up longer rhythms by repeating them with gradual variations on the theme and increasing tension over time. Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 3:48
  • as Codeswitcher said in the comment above I was going for some exercises about music theory analysis , something that you can analyze, quantify and appreciate more easily. I think that learning how to interpret waveforms could be a good starting point. Can you show an example of rhythm written on paper ? How do you write that ? Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 14:50
  • @user I would strongly recommend against interpreting sound on the level of waveforms as a means of learning rhythm, especially if your goal is learning to compose less repetitive and mechanical sounding rhythms. And rhythm on paper looks just like any other musical notation, except that it generally ignores pitch. Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 19:33
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    @user2485710 AHA! I see the problem. Your next question to ask is "What are some resources to teach myself to read music?" Do you play an instrument, or do you construct pieces from samples, or...? How do make music? Commented Apr 27, 2014 at 22:36

Some random comments and suggestions:

The rhythm by itself is not enough. The sophistication that you describe emerges as an interplay between rhythm, melody, harmony, themes, phrasing and many more, including the form of the whole piece. True, there are engaging percussion-only pieces, but these have their own melody and harmonies, their own structure and form. A number of half-notes in a row can be engaging, given they happen in a context that makes it so. On the other hand, even most sophisticated patterns could be boring as hell if performed wrong.

There is nothing wrong with standard beats like 4/4, 8/8, 3/4, 6/8, etc. Moreover, these are so prevalent and ubiquitous that any other rhythms are received in their context. It is immensely hard to create a natural 5/4 or 7/4 music, i.e. not just something in 5/4 beat that feels natural, but a piece that is received like the even beats (or any other beats for that matter) have never existed. Therefore, if you wish to study odd beats, I would recommend doing so in the context of the evens.

Listen to music. That is the thing you should start with. Pick the kind of music you like the most. For example, the following two drummers gave me a lot of inspiration. (I should mention that I'm a pianist, not a drummer; indeed, I learned a great deal about classical music (which would be my favorite if there is such a thing) from people playing jazz, fusion, progressive rock and so on.)

  • Great sophistication in standard rhythms, a kind of flowing, ever-changing pattern: Dave Weckl.
  • Changings styles, meters, patterns, mixing multiple rhythms at once: Virgil Donati.

Internalize a few patterns. Take a single example and learn it to the point you can hum/tap/whatever it while consciously listening to some other piece (later even in a different meter and style) and appreciate the effect which the two rhythms create together. Then take another pattern, rinse and repeat. Start with something simple, like:

  • a stream of continuous dotted quater-notes (i.e. the duration of three eight-notes) to some 4/4 standard beat;
  • a stream of eight-note and quater-note, repeated.

The two above are intentionally mismatched against 4/4, the point is to appreciate the misses and hits between your pattern and major beats of the one you are listening to. Then you can experiment with some more complex beats. If I were to suggest just a single one, learn the rhythm known as, among others, 6/8-clave, triple-pulse standard bell pattern or Nañigo. (See also Wikipedia; presented below in 4/4 meter to make it easier to practice against standard 4/4 beats.)

6/8 clave written in 4/4 beat

Dynamics is of utmost importance (in rhythms and patterns; of course, dynamics is not only volume). Don't get offended, there are amateur musicians that miss this simple fact, so I was compelled to state it. The basic effect is, that it provides a kind of purpose. Try to play the following (to use the previous example) using constant velocity (doesn't it sound mechanistic and inhumane?), and then again, but with marked accents (it's just some version, there is nothing special about these particular accents). Observe that sound varying (e.g. using high-conga and low-conga tones) doesn't help as much as the dynamics.

6/8 clave with some accents

Convert a well-known tune to another meter (in a way that fits the tune the best). It might be a bit silly exercise, but it does help. Some notes will have to be compressed in time, others stretched, or even removed. You can learn various rhythmic functions a note may have, how they interact and how to use it. Later, you can use such techniques to add more notes to make your pattern more dense, lively, or yet some other kind of feeling you wish to achieve.

Finally, play your rhythms! Multiple times, as long as you need to make them sound nice. I doubt I need to comment this one.

I hope this helps ;-)


Break with western drumming. Learn to play compound (balkan) and asymmetric (african) drum rhythms on a light, portable instrument such as (say) darabukka.

Patterns --> anticipation --> counter-rhythms --> improvisation --> insights.



I found awesome wikipedia page with inspirations: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_musical_works_in_unusual_time_signatures

Here you can find interesting odd rythms, and maybe this will sparkle your imagination.

For example:

  • "The First Circle" from the album First Circle : 22/8
  • "26 Is Dancier than 4" by This Town Needs Guns: 26/8

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