Songwriting basics and tips 2: Rhythm

Rhythm in music and song

I Got Rhythm … patreon

Bob Leslie is an Independent Scottish Songwriter, Singer, and Recording Artist

songwriter has to put rhythm into a song – no matter how slow or ballady. Rhythm is more than just having the instruments hit a beat. The lyrics of the song must also flow effortlessly with that beat, and the rhythmic pattern of your verses has to be the same for each one, or as near the same as you can get.

[Click on the song names to hear them!]

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Stress –

Absolute Rule:

Line 1 of V1 MUST contain the same number of stressed syllables as Stress in music and songLine 1 of V2,
Line 2 of V1 MUST contain the same number of stressed syllables as Line 2 of V2,
and so on for all the other lines and verses.

Those stresses MUST happen on the same notes in V1 as in V2, V3 etc.

Example:
Brolly Hard Rain song
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

4 stressed syllables on each line. In each verse, they fall on the same beats.
V1
Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, where have you been, my darling young one?
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways …

V2
Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son?
Oh, what did you see, my darling young one?
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it …

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Not Quite As Important, But Try-To-Observe-This Rule:

There should also be, as near as possible, the same number of syllables in Line 1 of V1 as in Line 1 of V2 etc. * Of course, sometimes writers treat this fairly flexibly, eg by adding extra beats to a syllable.

Example:

The Dowie Dens of Yarrow

V1Song Dowie Dens of Yarrow
There was a lady in the north
I ne’er did see her marrow (old word meaning “equal” or “match”)
She was courted by nine gentlemen
An a ploughboy  fae Yarrow

V2
These nine sat drinking at the wine
Sat drinking wine in Yarrow
And they made a vow amongst themselves
For to fight for her on Yarrow

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This one is fairly regular.
The syllable count per line in V1 is
8
7
9
8

The syllable count per line in V2 is
8
7
9
8

The syllable count in V1 has been made exact by singing “plough” as though it were a 2-syllable word: “plow-owe”.

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Keeping Kiddies Regular …

To be honest, kids’ songs are the only genre where exact attention to the syllables rule is normally paid without doing any word-stretching.

Example:
Teddy Bear's Picnic song

The Teddy Bears’ Picnic

 

If you go down in the woods today,
You’re sure of a big surprise
If you go down in the woods today,
You’d better go in disguise
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic

If you go down in the woods today
You better not go alone
It’s lovely down in the woods today
But safer to stay at home
For every bear that ever there was
Will gather there for certain because
Today’s the day the Teddy Bears have their picnic

………………………………………

The rule about the stress pattern however, is pretty much absolute – at least in popular and traditional music.

Here are a couple of examples:

Candy

V1 – stress pattern is 4:3:4:3Candy song
I was  perched out – side  in the  pour –  ing rain
Trying to make my – self  a sail
Then I’ll  float to you, my dar – ling
With the   eve –  ning   on my tail

V2 – stress pattern is 4:3:4:3
Al – though not the most honest means of tra – vel
It gets me there none – the – less
I’m a heart – less man at worst, babe
And a help – less one at best

Chorus Pt1 – stress pattern is 4:4:5
Dar
ling, I’ll bathe your skin
I’ll even wash your clothes
Just give me some can – dy be – fore I go

Chorus Pt2 – stress pattern is 4:4:5
Oh, darling, I’ll kiss your eyes
And lay you down on your rug
Just give me some can – dy af – ter my  hug

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Song Blue Suede ShoesBlue Suede Shoes 

 

V1 – stress pattern is 2:2:2:2
Well it’s one for the money
Two for the show
Three
to get ready and
Go, cat, go

Chorus – stress pattern is 1:3:2:3
But don’t you
Step
on my blue suede shoes
Well, you can do anything
But stay off of my blue suede shoes

V2 – stress pattern is 2:2:2:2
Well, you can knock me down
Step in my face
Slander my name all over the place
Well, do anything that you want to do
But uh-uh, honey lay off of them shoes

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Songwriter counting stresses in a song

So, definitely count those stresses,
and try to count the syllables too!
See you next time!

*A syllable is a single, unbroken sound of a spoken (or written) word, eg “dog” is one syllable, “elephant” is three. Sometimes words can have different numbers of syllables depending on how you say them. Songwriters, for example, sometimes find it convenient to sing “trying” (two syllables) as if it were “tryne” (one syllable).

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