Music Note Rhythm for Electronic Dance Music Elements

Every element in music we hear has a rhythm, and many of these elements consist of music notes, and many people name such a rhythm a “music note rhythm.” People find such rhythms important since it is related to our heartbeat and our body wants to be in resonance with the surroundings. If our heart rate goes up (for example with running), then we typically also like faster songs more, and vice versa.

How to make a common music note rhythm in EDM? The simplest way to make a note rhythm is by placing a random amount of notes all on one pitch, except for portamento rhythms since they can use multiple pitches above each other. Common note rhythms lengths are in EDM 1 bar, 2 bars, 4 bars, 8 bars, and 16 bars. Furthermore, there also more advanced ways to make a note rhythm with the use of some theory.

In this post, you can learn first what the call and response music pattern is, which is useful for making note rhythms. After that, you can learn some methods by which we can make a note rhythm, and how we can change the lengths of these rhythms to a full-length rhythm. Furthermore, you can learn here how we can add velocity and swing as an extra to our note rhythms, and at last, there are some closing words.

Call and Response Explanation

Call and response is a common music pattern, and we can apply this pattern also on music note rhythms. In the following sections, I reference a few times to this pattern, so it can be helpful to understand it. However, if you don’t understand it now, then the examples following sections are maybe good enough to help you.

A call and response rhythm has two rhythmic structures, where the response structure is a commentary on the call structure. So this means that the response rhythm is (noticeable) different than the call rhythm. Also, this means that the response comes after the call.

The noticeable difference in call and response structures can occur with music notes pitches in two ways. The first way is that the response structure has at least one different pitch than the call structure. The second way is that the response has a different ordering of pitches than the call.

There can be one or multiple call structures, and they can have one or more response structures. Also, the difference between the call and the response can be extremely subtle, like a 1/16th-note length difference.

Rhythm Methods

As mentioned above, people find music note rhythms in music important. Therefore it is most of the time a good idea to give the rhythm some extra attention. However, this does not mean that you should make it more complicated.

The complexity of a music note rhythm has nothing to do with how good it is. Most of the of time, the rhythm of the other parts of a track determines the complexity of the new note rhythm you make. So most of the time, the more complex the rhythm in the other parts are, the simpler the new rhythm becomes, and vice versa.

Here in the following methods, the music note lengths don’t matter, because these methods are all about the starting points of such notes. So these note lengths are a preference.

When making a music note rhythm it can help to place all the notes on one pitch, so we can only focus on the rhythm. However, portamento rhythms can use multiple pitches above each other, which a method below explains.

On the Beat Rhythm

This music note rhythm has one or more notes that start right on the beat. So in many cases, then our notes begin right at the same moment as our bass drum (kick).

Example of an on the beat music note rhythm

Offbeat Rhythm

When we place one or more music notes right in the middle between beats, then we have an offbeat rhythm. So in many cases, then our notes start right in the middle between two kicks.

A popular way of making such a rhythm is by placing 1/16 notes on the offbeat and right in the middle between every beat.

Example of an offbeat music note rhythm

Over the Beat Rhythm

An over the beat rhythm has one or more music notes that start somewhere in between two beats. Also, each of these notes is long enough that it goes over or stops on a beat. So in many situations, then our notes start before the kick and end after or on top of it.

Example of an over the beat music note rhythm

Copy a Rhythm from Other Elements

We can make this music note rhythm if we have already another element with a rhythm in our track. Such elements are drum/percussion rhythms, melody, or chords. Further, every rhythm consists of one or more parts, such as drum hits or notes, and every part has a starting point.

We can make this music note rhythm in two steps, which are:

  1. First, we choose an element that has a rhythm.
  2. Second, we copy at least one starting point from a chosen rhythm to our rhythm as a new note.

We can repeat this two-step process with another element that also has a rhythm.

For the smart people, in many situations, if we only copy the starting points of a kick rhythm, then we have an on the beat rhythm.

Example of copying a rhythm from other elements

Call and Response Rhythm

We can use the call and response music pattern as a method to make a music note rhythm. Furthermore, we can find the explanation of this pattern above in the section “Call and Response Explanation.”

Here follows an example of a two bars long rhythm. The first bar of this rhythm is the call rhythm, and the second bar is the response rhythm. Also, the call has noticeable longer music notes than the response, and there is a noticeable rest between the call and response.

Example of a call and response rhythm

A more subtle example, and it is a rhythm with five notes in one bar. The first four music notes are all the same length that we can see as four call parts. The fifth note is a response note that is an 8th-note shorter than the call notes.

Example of a subtle call and response rhythm

Portamento Rhythm

We can only make this rhythm when our synthesizer has a portamento option, which most synthesizers have.

A portamento rhythm has at least two music notes that overlap each other. We need such overlapping so that the pitch of a note can slide into the other overlapping note with a different pitch. When we want to make such a rhythm, then it can help to choose a pitch for the second note that is seven semitones higher (perfect fifth) than the first pitch.

For example, we have a 1/4 note on G and another 1/4 note on D that starts 1/8 note later so that it overlaps the first the note. In this case, most synthesizers can slide the first music note slide into the second one with portamento.

Example of a portamento rhythm

Random Rhythm or Combine Rhythms

The random rhythm method is probably the most creative method by which we can make a music note rhythm.

We create a rhythm with the random rhythm method by placing notes of random lengths at random places and then hope it sounds good. Moreover, when we don’t like the result of this method, then we can do this process over and over again until we have something we like.

By combining the already mentioned methods, we can make more complex music note rhythms. However, combining methods doesn’t have to result in rhythms better or something like that.

There is an endless amount of possibilities with combining methods. However, when we want some more guidelines, then we can choose for every note we want in our rhythm a different method.

For example, when we want to have three notes in our rhythm, then we can choose methods to combine like this:

  • For the first note, one the beat.
  • The second note, over the beat.
  • For the third note, you do something random.

Change a Rhythm to a Full-length Rhythm

In this section explains what some common and recommended rhythm lengths are. Also, I explain two methods by which we can make a too-short rhythm longer.

Every rhythm length is a good length, but some are in my opinion better. The rhythm lengths that I recommend are also by far the most common in EDM, and are:

  • 1 bar
  • 2 bars
  • 4 bars
  • 8 bars
  • 16 bars

If we don’t count the 1 bar length, then all the lengths listed here are an even number, which makes them hopefully easier to remember.

When we have followed one of the methods above, then we have a music note rhythm. If this has a length that I don’t recommend, then I suggest changing the length to a recommended one. For example, if you have a 3 bar length rhythm, then change it to the 2 bars or 4 bars, or another recommended one.

If we have a recommended rhythm length, but we still want it longer, then I suggest using the two methods below. These two methods are “Duplicate a Rhythm” and “Add a Call or Response to a Rhythm.” Of course, making a rhythm longer is not necessary, and it does not make a rhythm sound better.

We should keep in mind when using the two methods below, that we can make a rhythm longer than the mentioned recommended lengths. In my opinion, it is better not to differ from the recommended ones. For example, when you have a 4 bars length, then you can make an 8 bars length of it, but I think a 20 bars length is strange and too long.

Methods to Increase a Music Note Rhythm Length

There are only two methods I know to increase the length of a music note rhythm. However, I find them very efficient, and they always work for me.

Duplicate a Rhythm

This method does what its name suggests; it repeats a rhythm. So with this method, we can duplicate a music note rhythm that we already have.

The method itself is pretty simple. Copy the whole rhythm and then paste it directly behind it, and that is it.

We can duplicate a rhythm also more than once. The amount of times you can repeat a duplicate by my recommendation is:

  • One time, when we a have an 8 bars rhythm.
  • Three times, when we have a 1 or 2 bar(s) rhythm.
  • Seven times, when we have a 1 or 2 bar(s) rhythm.
  • Fifteen times, when we have a 1 bar rhythm.
Example of a repeated rhythm

Add a Call or Response to a Rhythm

We can also use the call and response music pattern here as a method to make a music note rhythm longer. The explanation of this pattern is above in the section: Call and Response Explanation.

The rhythm that we have now is the call or the response part, which is our choice. If we have chosen for the call part, then we should add the response part after it. Alternatively, if we have chosen for the response part, then we should add the call part before it.

As an example, here are three simple steps on how we can make an effective call or a response part. These steps are:

  1. Make sure that the part you already have has at the end of the rhythm at least a rest of a 1/8 note.
  2. Copy and paste the rhythm you already have before or behind it.
  3. Modify the original or the new pasted part, but make sure that you have at the end of both parts at least a rest of a 1/8 note.

Like mentioned before, we can have more than one call part and more than one response part. For example, we can duplicate the rhythm we already have a few times, so you have a few call or response parts, which is our choice. After that, we can add one or more call or response parts.

Example of a call and response rhythm, with text

Velocity

Velocity is for many people in the EDM world a mystery. Plus, many people forget to use it, or they think it takes too much time. For us, it is a choice to use velocity on our rhythms, so it is not necessary.

Velocity is the force by which an instrument plays a music note. To explain velocity simpler, it is most of the time just the audio volume of a played note.

When we change the velocity of one or more musical notes in a rhythm, then it becomes more interesting. However, when we change velocities in a rhythm, this does not mean it becomes better.

As a rule of thumb, I change velocity on my music note rhythms only in two cases:

  • When the rhythm will get played on an instrument that sounds like a “real-life/more traditional” instrument. For example, a piano or guitar, but not a synthesizer with a supersaw preset.
  • I want to use velocity creatively.

Extra info: When velocity is somewhat new for you, then maybe your velocity changes are not hearable. In most DAW’s I know, we change the velocity of music notes somewhere in a sort of a piano roll. Plus in many instruments I know, we have to activate something to make velocity differences in the played notes hearable.

Velocity Methods

Here follow two methods for changing the velocity of a music note rhythm. With these methods, the whole rhythm stays the same, only the velocity of one or more notes changes.

I don’t know every DAW out there, and also I don’t know every way how we can change velocity values. However, I use here values ranging from 1 to 100, with the reason that everyone can “translate” these values to his or her tools. Here of each note is the lowest possible audio volume the value 1, and the highest value 100.

Humanize a Rhythm

When a human plays an instrument, then he or she plays as good as never two or more music notes after each other precisely on the same audio level. We may hear and think that the person does, but he or she just simply can’t. Even the most professional artist can’t do this.

Only computers can play each music note perfectly on the same audio level. Therefore when a human performs the same notes on an instrument, it becomes more creative.

Most of the time we don’t hear/notice those audio level differences between the music notes that someone plays. However, we still notice it unconsciously, even if the differences are extremely small.

I don’t know why we notice the small audio level differences so well. However, if you don’t trust me on this, then you can test it yourself. To do this test, play one version of the music notes with all on the same velocity and one version with small differences.

To humanize a music note rhythm with velocity. We give all these music notes a random difference in velocity, and most of these differences are minor. However, if we have more than 100 notes in a rhythm (which is probably way too much), then it is not possible to give all the notes a different velocity.

For example, we have a rhythm with five music notes. Then we can set the velocities of these notes like this:

  • The first music note on velocity 98.
  • The second music note on velocity 93.
  • The third music note on velocity 87.
  • The fourth music note on velocity 94.
  • The fifth music note on velocity 88.
Example of a humanized velocity rhythm

Call and Response with Velocity

We can also use here the call and response music pattern on the velocities of a music notes rhythm. The explanation of this pattern is above in the section: Call and Response Explanation.

This method is not common in music. It is just a creative way of how we can use velocity on our music note rhythm.

The first part of our rhythm is the call part and the second part of the rhythm is the response part. To make this more noticeable, make sure that both parts have a rest at the end. It might be good to know that the response part can be an exact copy of the call part, but is not necessary.

Examples

For example, place all the notes on the call part on velocity value 70 and all the notes in the response part on value 100. In this case, we can also see it as having two call parts (velocity values of 70) and having two response parts (velocity values of 100).

Example of two call parts and two response parts rhythm

Another example, we have two notes in the call part the same as the two notes in the response part. Then we can change in the call part the first note to velocity 63 en the second note to 92. In the response part, we can change the velocity of the first note to 85 and the second note to 71.

Example of a call and response velocity rhythm

We can see this second example also as two call and two response rhythms after each other. We can see the music notes on velocity 63 and 85 as call parts, and the notes on velocity 92 and 71 as response parts.

Extra Info for Fun

Some information that might be fun to know. When we have a music note on velocity 87, and after this note, there is a note on velocity 88, then these two notes are also in a call and response pattern, but extremely subtle.

Combine Velocity Methods

We can combine the two mentioned velocity methods, which is also pretty simple to do. We can do such combining by using one of the two velocity methods and then after that chose another one.

For example, we have a music note rhythm with eight music notes equally divided over two bars. Then we could use the call and response method on two notes in the first bar and on the first two notes in the second bar. After that, we can add the humanize method to the rhythm on the four notes which are not changed by the call and response method.

Swing (Shuffle)

This method is a not so common method for making in EDM a music note rhythm more interesting. However, this method is common on drum/percussion rhythms, at least in EDM, but the focus of this section is only on music note rhythms.

We don’t have to use swing (shuffle) to a music note rhythm since it does not always make such a rhythm better. The section “Considering Adding Swing to a Music Note Rhythm,” which is below, explains why we want or not want to use it.

Swing (Shuffle) Explanation

As far as I know, swing and shuffle are in EDM the same thing. For some people, it can be hard to understand swing, just as it was for me.

Adding swing always happens in a pattern, and is notated for example as:

  • 8th-note swing
  • 16th-note swing
  • 32th-note swing

A 16th-note swing is EDM by far the most common. Moreover, it is the only swing I recommend to use since the others sound wrong in my opinion and also in the opinion of many others.

A swing always happens on the even-numbered notes. Plus, the amount of swing added to these music notes is on all the same.

So for example, if there is a 16th-note swing added in a bar, then:

  • The first 16th-note in the bar has not a swing.
  • The second 16th-note in the bar has a swing.
  • The third 16th-note in the bar has not a swing.
  • The fourth 16th-note in the bar has a swing.

Moreover, the added swing continues in that pattern.

Another example, if there is an 8th-note swing added in a bar. Then the first 8th-note in the bar has not a swing, and the second 8th-note in the bar has a swing, the added swing continues in this pattern.

The swing amount is something that gets cut off at the start of music notes and is the same amount by which these notes start later. Which also means the more swing, the shorter the notes with swing are.

Using Swing on the Rhythm

We can use a somewhat automatic function to add swing on our music notes, like a built-in swing that many DAW’s have. However, we can also add such a swing manually.

When we chose the automatic option, then we probably always have a parameter for changing the amount of swing we add to the music notes. This parameter is often a percentage value, and the higher the percentage, the more swing we add, and vice versa.

We can also add swing manually. We can do this manually by cutting off a part at the beginning of a music note. The amount we cut off such a note is a personal preference, but I recommend an amount of a 256th-note.

Example of a rhythm with swing

The reason for this recommendation is that it is consciously and also unconsciously noticeable. Moreover, an amount of a 512th-note is too hard to notice, and an amount of a 128th-note is a too obvious swing and doesn’t feel/sounds good in my opinion.

Considering Adding Swing to a Music Note Rhythm

We should not always add swing to our music note rhythm since it can remove the advantages of using it. When we add swing to every musical element of our track, then we just have made a track where every part has music notes/percussion hits that start later. I never heard such EDM tracks, and I don’t understand why someone would want such a track.

In my opinion, the beauty of adding swing to a rhythm is to give that rhythm something extra/different which most or all other musical elements don’t have. When we add swing like that, we let a rhythm stand out. For example, when there is a painting with a blue stripe, and all the other stripes are red, then the blue stripe stands out.

My advice is: think about all the elements in your track that you want to give swing or already have it. For example, if you have a few drum rhythms with swing, you should ask yourself why you want another element a swing rhythm in your track.

A rule of thumb I use a swing on maximal two drums/percussion rhythms, and also on maximal two music note rhythms. So in total a maximum of four swing elements in my tracks. However, most of the time, I try to go for a maximum of two swing rhythms, one drum/percussion rhythm, and one music note rhythm.

There is one reason for this rule of thumb, which I based on an observation of mine. The reason is: The better EDM tracks do not have as many active musical elements at the same time.

In many types of EDM tracks swing on music notes sounds strange. So this means I end up most of the time just with one swing on a drum rhythm.

How to make a music note rhythm

Closing Words

This post explained what the call and response music pattern is, which happens to be useful for making music note rhythms. Also, this post explains some methods by which we can make a note rhythm, and how we can change the lengths of these rhythms to a full-length rhythm. Furthermore, this post explains how we can add velocity and swing as an extra to our note rhythms.

If you like this post, then you may want to look at some posts in the Disc Jockey (DJ) part, since this post is also part of it.

Hopefully, you have learned something about music note rhythms. Also, when you know someone who likes to make a note rhythm, then feel free to share this post. Additionally, do you know a not mentioned method to make a note rhythm?

2 Replies to “Music Note Rhythm for Electronic Dance Music Elements”

  1. Just read your document – twice. Thank you for putting your heart into it. I gained a lot of ideas, and am starting out. Please continue doing the work you are doing – if only to put it out there. Let me tell you that I and other people appreciate every idea you shared with us. Watching Calvin Harris@Coachella 2016 now!

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