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Rhythm Chunking 3: Riffs

Riffs are generally thought of as the repetition of a short melodic unit, or a short chord progression.  The rhythm always stays the same. Conventionally.

Let’s not be conventional.


Melody + rhythm = riff

First, we make a five-note melody.

rhythm chunk melody


Now take those five notes and superimpose them on different rhythms. I’ll use the ones we made in the last posts (The last chunk is new. I needed something to complete the five-note melody I started on the second note of the second-last chunk).


rhythm chunk riff2


Superimposing the five notes on different rhythms creates a nice kind of tension. It allows you to predict (as a listener) what the five notes are without being able to predict when they’ll repeat.


Make your own

Make your own stuff. Create a short melody – anywhere from 4 to 8 notes. Then make 3 or 4 different rhythms and string them together in different ways.

  • rhythm 1, rhythm 2, rhythm 3
  • rhythm 3, rhythm 1, rhythm 2
  • rhythm 2, rhythm 1, rhythm 3
  • etc.


If you spend some time superimposing your melody on these different rhythms, you’re bound to come up with stuff you like.


Long melodies

Once you’re comfortable doing this with short melodies, try it with long ones. Restrict yourself to one rhythm here. If the melody is really long, it can be difficult to hear when it repeats. Using different rhythms makes that even more difficult, and the whole thing can lose focus.

But do some experimenting and see what works. Start with one rhythm. Then try it with two.  Go crazy and use three. Stay sensitive to when it stops sounding good.




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