Most of the music theory I have learnt/encountered was focusing on chords and notes of melodies, but not on interplay of melody and backbeat, hence I'm asking this question.

We are working on a song which has a rhythmically dominant part. However we have found that we are pretty much following the rhythm of this part with the vocals and we are kind of stuck with the same melody because of this.

So the question is:

Is there any "mechanical" way of constructing counter rhythms for melodies?

To give an analogy what I am looking for: there are these "mechanical" methods for writing melodies over chords, which say "start with the notes of the chords, then approach them through neighboring notes". Of course they can't replace inspiration, but it can get you open up for something with it.

Is there any rule of thumb here on which beat (say never start on beat 1) you should start and finish your melody?

The rhythm in question

The rhythm in question ^

Notation: lower notes bass drum, higher notes snare drum.

Rhythm and tempo: 8/4, 170 bpm

3 Answers 3


One common way is to create a counter line that emphasizes rhythms left unaccented in the original line.

For instance, here's your original line:

enter image description here

Immediately, I notice the syncopated aspect of this line and that there's nothing happening rhythmically on beats 3, 4, and 1. So, I'll consider creating a counter rhythm that does do something on those beats. As just one example:

enter image description here

When we put them together, we see how well these two lines complement each other:

enter image description here

I'm not sure if this is what you meant by "mechanical," but this is one way of creating rhythmic interest. Indeed, it dates all the way back to the beginning of the 18th century (at least!): when writing fugues, composers would often write countersubjects in this way to complement the subjects.

(Note: There's a specific term for this, but I'm blanking on it at the moment. If anyone knows, please speak up!)

  • Great aspect! I'm trying this out immediately!
    – atoth
    Jul 29, 2018 at 19:20
  • Mechanical might not be the right word. I wanted to express that it does not need a stroke of inspiration that it can be derived just like some forms of counterpoint.
    – atoth
    Jul 29, 2018 at 19:30
  • I have tried it out. I have three observations: it became very busy. I also think that as it is a groove, a repetition it might benefit from a melody that is shifted and is weakening the strong start of the groove. And the third one is I tried out a super basic 4th hihat and it might help contrasting the busy groove with something very simple.
    – atoth
    Jul 30, 2018 at 14:18

Sorry, I don't understand your notation of the rhythm.

But anyway, you've got a strong rhythmic groove going on. Doesn't really matter what it is.

I suggest you contrast it with a sustained melody, using mostly long notes. Like this. A busy latin groove, and melody notes many of which last a full bar or more.

  • Sorry, I got carried away and forgot to add the additional information regarding the rhythm. I have just edited the question!
    – atoth
    Jul 29, 2018 at 19:10

I can't do better than send you to a master. Check out this discussion of "development of cross-rhythm" in African drumming. Most popular music in the West uses these cross-rhythms to energize the groove. Once you understand how they are "built," you can recognize (a) how kick drum, snare, and hi-hat interact; (b) how you can create a counter/cross rhythm if you happen upon an interesting rhythmic pattern:


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