by Sam Inglis
The term 'rhythm' is used in two related ways in songwriting. In one sense, it can be applied to any instrumental or vocal part, to describe the timing of notes: take away the pitches of the notes and think only about their length and spacing, and you have the rhythm of that part. For most pop and rock songs, however, 'rhythm' also refers to a regular, repeating pulse that underlies a band performance. This would usually be driven by a drummer and bass player, but other instruments also contribute.
Rhythm in the former sense can be a useful concept for analysing music, but the chances are you won't need to think about it consciously when writing your songs. By contrast, it is very much worth thinking about the overall rhythmic pulse that underlies your song, if you want it to have one. Even a simple acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment usually creates a strong rhythmic feel, and changing this feel can radically alter the impact of the song as a whole. If in doubt, try taking a well-known song like 'Yesterday' and playing it with different strumming patterns on the guitar.
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