Create Emotion Using Simple Rhythms

Lisa Witt  /  Songwriting / Jan 21

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Using rhythms can open SO MANY possibilities in music.

Learning different rhythms can give you a lot to work with when you’re trying to add more tension or emotion to any chord progression.

And it doesn’t have to be hard.

Even something as simple as experimenting with slow whole notes or faster eighth notes can give your music more character and emotion.

How does it work? Let me show you.

You need a chord progression

This works best when we use it over a chord progression, so you can see the difference. 

We’ll use the 1-5-6-4 progression in the key of F. That means the chords will be F-C-Dm-Bb.

If you’re not sure what this progression is, check out this lesson.

In the right hand, we’ll just play a very basic melody. Like the chords, this will repeat over and over. The ONLY thing we are going to change is the rhythm.

Start slow

To begin with, we’ll use whole notes in the left hand. This is our first rhythm.

Play through the chord progression using ONLY whole notes. That means each chord will be held for 4 counts. 

For more on note values, you can find a lesson here.

For the left hand, I often find it better to play the root and 5th note of the chord and leave our the 3rd. You can also just play single notes if that’s easier for you.

Then, get faster 

Once you have the whole notes mastered, it’s time to change the rhythm. We’re going to speed things up a little bit by changing the whole notes to half notes.

Now, it’s important to realize that the chord changes don’t speed up. Every chord is still used for an entire measure. The only thing we’re changing is how often we play those chords in our left hand. When we used whole notes that meant we only played them once per measure.

With half notes, we’ll be playing each chord twice per measure.

This progression already sounds different! It has more movement, and it’s more interesting.

But we won’t stop there

We’ve tried whole and half notes, now it’s time to use quarter notes.

Like before, this is the only thing we’ll be changing. So now instead of playing those notes in our left hand twice per measure, we’ll play them 4 times per measure.

Totally different feeling right?

By doing this we’re building the intensity and musical ‘tension’ in the progression.

But wait, there’s more

Let’s take this one step further. Can you guess what rhythm we’re going to use next?

That’s right…

Quarter notes! Now things are getting crazy intense.

Compare the progression now to when we started. It’s like it’s a completely different feeling.

And that’s the point. Rhythm is so useful in music, and I think it’s often overlooked.

Rhythm in action

To see an example of using these simple types of rhythm, you don’t have to look very far.

One of the biggest bands in the world does it.

In the song, “The Scientist”, by Coldplay, they use quarter and eighth notes in the piano to create the driving rhythm and set the feeling of the song.

So try it out for yourself! Take a song you know well and experiment with different rhythms.

I also love using this when I practice my chord progressions because it makes it so much more fun to practice when you’re feeling unmotivated and bored.

Rhythms can WAKE YOU UP! 

So try it today and have fun 🙂

Lisa Witt has been teaching piano for 19 years and in that time has helped hundreds of students learn to play the songs they love. Lisa received classical piano training through the Royal Conservatory of Music, but she has since embraced popular music and playing by ear in order to accompany herself and others.

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