You have the melody and know what and when the chord changes are. Now you want to build a rhythm section arrangement and need the following instrumentation added

1) Rhythm guitar 2) Bass 3) Drums

Where do you start and what should you keep in mind when choosing a strum pattern, bassline & drum pattern?

  • Honestly from my experience, imagine what you want the final product of the song to sound like. Then play that. Work towards that. Does it sound good? Does it showcase your musical skills or compositional skills?
    – user30646
    Dec 20, 2017 at 1:01
  • Build around the root notes of the melody Dec 26, 2017 at 16:06
  • @Jason, forgive me but what is the "root" note of the melody? Do you mean the tonic note of the key? The melody doesn't need to even have the tonic note in it at all so not sure I see how to apply that idea
    – user35708
    Dec 27, 2017 at 17:28
  • I did mean the tonic. Many melodies I've written revolve around a tonic. Dec 27, 2017 at 17:40

1 Answer 1


A central creative action in most or all forms of art is transformation, and transformation is highly powerful in music. Just one example of the power of transformation is a fugue, where a relatively short musical statement is transformed many times to create an entire work lasting many minutes.

Usually, once you have the germ of a musical idea, you can generate many related ideas using transformation.

In this case, you have two germs. You have the rhythm that is the rhythm of the melody, and you have the harmonic rhythm of the chord changes. Changing the harmonic rhythm will change how the melody sounds, so that is something you can play with.

To write the rhythms for any instruments that will have a rhythmic contribution, you can base their rhythms on the vocal rhythm. You want to pay attention to how the rhythm instruments accent or diminish the impact of the notes of the vocal rhythm. When choosing what notes to highlight or diminish in impact, consider both the melodic function of the note and the verbal function of the lyrics (if any) surrounding that note.

Pick any one rhythm instrument, write a rhythm for it that has the desired effect with the vocal line, and then have other rhythm instruments double that rhythm or "part out" the rhythm between the instruments. The simplest way to start with the first rhythm is to simply mirror the rhythm of the melody. A simple early transformation is to take one statement of the rhythm of the melody and keep repeating it even when the melody rhythm changes.

Other types of transformation are available, such as rhythmic sequence, retrograde, etc.

  • Thanks. When I said i had the chord changes, I meant just the chords not the actual rhythm part or strum pattern. What you said about the rhythm of the vocal I found interesting especially since the vocal in question does something different every few bars so is hardly steady enough to be used as a rhythmic idea. Do producers really just play around until they find something that fits or do they look for certain criteria? in 4/4 there are hundreds of drum grooves so what makes one sound better than the other?
    – user35708
    Dec 20, 2017 at 7:56

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