How to Compose Music – Energy & Drive

Master the energy & drive in your music

How to Compose Music - Drive & EnergyMy course will take you on a learning journey. And your end goal and destination for this journey, is to unlock the secrets to energy & drive in your music, by the power of rhythm.

Important: You can take my full course in video form – which includes live examples, demonstrations, and more importantly a visual learning experience.

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Master the Playing Styles of Driving Rhythms

Learn the fundamental playing styles and sounds of driving rhythms. So that you can create, shape and add energy and drive into your music. For example: strumming guitars…pulsing synthesizers, or ostinato string patterns…

Learn Amazing Workflow Tools & Techniques

Learn some of the amazing workflow tools and techniques, so that you can create and shape new driving rhythms much faster. For example: arpeggiators, step sequencers, and rhythmic gate effects.

Get Practical Guidelines on Rhythm & Drive

Get practical guidelines on using rhythm & drive, so that you can use the full power of drive and energy in your music productions.

Energy & Drive – The Foundation

Driving Rhythm – What?

Let’s start by defining what rhythm is. Here is my definition: “Rhythm in Music, is a pattern of Sound and Silence, in time”.

Drums and percussion is of course the foundation for rhythm in most music. But that’s not what this course is about. It’s about all the other instruments and sounds that add that energetic drive into your music. What I call: Melodic Rhythm.

For example: Strumming or plucking a rhythm on guitar…playing an ostinato pattern on orchestral strings…using special rhythmic effects like gating…and so on.

Driving Rhythm – Why?

Now why is rhythm and drive so important in music? Well, to be honest, there are some styles of music that should not have much energy and drive in a rhythmic sense. Like ambient and atmospheric music…or a background underscore in movies for example…

However, for most styles of music, rhythm is the very core and foundation. It is what will add the forward momentum in your music. It is the groove and patterns that is impossible not to feel, when you hear it. Driving rhythms is what will make people nod their head… tap their foot… and feel the urge to move their body to your music…

Essentially, rhythm is the guiding foundation, that will lead the audience throughout your entire composition. Your music story.

Driving Rhythm – How?

Driving Rhythms can come in so many styles and flavors. From intimate and mellow rhythms, by strumming an acoustic guitar…To light and airy rhythms by playing arpeggios on a harp…To fast energy-building rhythms on ostinato strings…To powerful rhythms on electric guitars…Or perhaps epic rhythms on staccato block chords on a full string section…

So how do you master the energy of driving rhythms in your music? There are several ways:

Rhythmic Playing Styles: The main way is to use various rhythmic playing styles, that of course depends on the specific instrument you use. Strumming, Comping or Arpeggios for example.

Performance Techniques: Next you need to focus on the special performance techniques of the instrument you want to use for the driving rhythm. Sometimes you can use palm muting, like on a guitar. On a bowed string instrument you can bounce on the string to create a sharp attack on short notes.

Special Tools & Effects: And finally, you can use special tools and effects to add rhythm into a performance. Like rhythmic gating effects, arpeggiators, or pulse engines.

In this course I will go into detail on all these aspects, so that you can learn how to practically add and shape the driving rhythms, and epic energy, into your music compositions. Congratulations! Now that you have learned the foundation of driving rhythms in music. Let’s continue your journey, right now!

The Styles of Drive & Energy

Now I will teach, demonstrate and show the playing styles of driving rhythms. Of course, you have almost unlimited creative choices for driving rhythms in your music, but these are the fundamental playing styles I personally use as a music composer.

1. Strumming

One of the most classic ways to add rhythmic drive is by strumming a string instrument. For example: an acoustic guitar…an electric guitar…or perhaps a ukulele.

The drive comes from the strumming pattern, which can be anything from really slow…to super fast… You can strum down, up, or pause for any beat or division in the grid. You can also control the sustain of the strumming sound by muting the strings with your palm. And the harder you press your palm on the strings, the shorter the sound will be.

The mix of these techniques which can be summarized as: up, down, mute-degree and pause, is what creates the strumming pattern.

Most often you use a 16th note division, as the starting point, to create your strumming pattern. Slower and simpler patterns means less drive and energy. Like for example 4 simple straight quarter notes…or even as simple as a single downstroke on each new chord change, let’s say on each bar…While faster patterns of course adds more excitement and energy to your rhythm….

To control the “thickness” of the strumming sound you can vary how many strings you strum. On a standard guitar you have 6 strings, but you don’t have to strum them all. You can for example strum only the 4 lowest strings for a warm, soft sound… Or only the 4 highest strings for a brighter sound…

The great thing is that there are many guitar plugins and libraries to choose from today, which are capable of manually strumming the rhythm with your MIDI keyboard, or use a strumming engine built in to the plugin itself.

Here’s a Power Tip:

You can spice up your strumming pattern by throwing in some single notes as well. And those can be either sustaining notes, or palm mutes with various amount of mute level…

2. Chugging

Chugging is the term used for heavy use of palm muted power chords, mainly on electric guitars with heavy drive and distortion applied. Basically it is very much like creating strumming patterns, but I decided to make this its own category because the final sound, energy and character is very different from standard strumming.

The most important difference is that you use Power Chords for chugging rhythms. A power chord is technically not a chord, but a harmony of a perfect 5th. Meaning you have the root note of the chord and the harmony of a perfect 5th above it, which is 7 seminotes. Also, the octave of the root is often added. So 1-5-1 basically.

The foundation of the chugging rhythmic style, is that you favor palm mutes over sustains. And then you choose which notes to accent, by quickly releasing the palm for a brief moment, to create a sustaining sound.

The heavy use of palm muting means you can play these chugging rhythms much faster than a standard strumming pattern, without getting a muddy sound.

The classic power chord on an electric guitar is using the 3 lowest strings, with the lowest string being the root note of the chord, the second string plays the 5th, and the third string plays the octave above the root.

Here’s a Power Tip:
You can also vary the amount of strings you chug on, just like you can on a standard strummed chord. So for a very focused chug, you can sometimes only use the lowest string. Or the 2 lowest. And you can mix and blend how many strings you strum on each chug to create more variation in the sound of rhythm.

If you don’t play guitar yourself, I recommend looking at electric guitar plugins focused on rock and heavier styles, like metal. These are better if you want to add that powerful chugging rhythm to your music. Because if the library focus on heavier styles of guitar, it will probably have more dynamic layers and round robins for the palm mutes, which is incredibly important.

3. Arpeggios

Arpeggio, means broken chord. This means that instead of playing all chord notes at once, you play the notes of the chord one by one.

The amount of patterns you can create to form an arpeggio is almost infinite. Because not only can you jump around between any of the notes of the chord. You can also repeat some of them in another octave. And you can also choose the length, as well as the dynamics for each note. For example, adding an accent on the first note of the arpeggio pattern, for each chord change.

If you want more drive and energy in your arpeggio, simply pick up the speed. For example, instead of quarter notes…you can do 8th notes…or even 16th notes…

And if you want to add some groove into your arpeggio pattern, simply mix different note length values in the pattern, and be creative with adding pauses as well.

Here’s a Power Tip:

You can spice up the arpeggio even further, by adding a harmony or even a chord, here and there inside your pattern. Technically that is not arpeggiating, but nevertheless it is a practical technique, and it will serve really well as an accent inside your arpeggio.

4. Ostinatos

This is one of my personal favorite ways to add energy and drive in my music compositions. Mainly because I love to compose cinematic and orchestral music, but this style can work in lots of genres. I’ve even used it in corporate, uplifting and motivational music styles.

Basically an ostinato is a repeated phrase that focus on the rhythm more than the pitch. Let’s compare this to a repeated riff. A riff will feel more like a unique performance, that can be catchy on its own. Basically you remember a riff, but not really an ostinato.

Another difference between a repeated riff and an ostinato is that an ostinato pattern often use the same note length for each note, and the same playing style. For example a staccato or spiccato on strings.

Because the role of an ostinato pattern is to add drive and energy, by bouncing on the notes in a rhythmic fashion. That is why it is generally not memorable on its own, but it can contribute incredibly well to the energy of your music composition.

It can be as easy as a straight drive, like 8th notes…or a very energetic drive like 16th notes…But it gets much more interesting when you start experimenting with the rhythmic pattern, and include some variation in the notes you use…

Here’s a Power Tip:

You can layer two or more ostinato patterns on top of each other to create a richer and more complex sound. Generally this works best if you use different instruments in different ranges. For example one ostinato on Cellos, and another one on Violas, an octave above.

5. Rhythmic Blocks

This is a term I came up with myself to be honest, but it is used very much in many styles of music. And I personally use it a lot in my own compositions.

Basically it is playing short notes in a rhythmic fashion, and in a block chord style. Mainly I use the staccato or spiccato playing styles on strings, to create this rhythmic blocks style of drive. But you can use any type of instrument that can play very short, accented chords.

Staccato is a particular performance technique which results in a short, punchy playing style, and is mainly used on orchestral instruments like strings, brass or woodwinds. There are various versions of this short, accented playing style that you can choose from, or even mix between. Like spiccato and staccatissimo for example. And the different variations have its own characteristic sound.

Playing rhythmic blocks, is almost like strumming a guitar, if you only use palm muted strums. On a guitar you can vary the amount of palm mute to get a shorter or longer sound for each muted strum.

Let’s compare this to staccato blocks rhythms, where you can vary the length by switching between different short note articulations on the instrument you use. So for example using staccatissimo which is a really short articulation, to staccato where you want to add an accent.

Here’s a Power Tip:
If using full chords is a bit too thick in your mix, you can use 2 note harmonies instead. I do this a lot to give room to other instruments and sounds. And another advantage of this technique is that you can choose to add more notes only in certain places in the rhythm that you want to accent. So for example, using only 2 note harmonies for the main rhythmic block pattern, and then add a full chord only where you want to accent that beat.

6. Comping Rhythms

Now the final fundamental playing style I use for driving rhythms is what I call “comping rhythms”. I use this term to define a mix of playing styles in a rhythmic performance.

A mix that has the purpose to add drive to the harmonic storyline of your music…meaning the chord progression.

Basically you can use block chords in various lengths and rhythms…

You add some single notes to spice it up, which can be chord notes, or passing notes outside of the main chord…

You can play the chords semi-broken, which can for example mean playing 1 note then 2 notes, then 1 note, then 2 notes…

And you can arpeggiate chord notes or even scale notes outside of the chord, in whatever speed or number of notes you choose…

The point is that a comping rhythm can be a mix of all these things, from super simple… to very busy and complex…

Here’s a Power Tip:

You can get a much more organic and human vibe in your music composition if you record the coming rhythms without, or with minimal, quantization…

And you can even add groove into the performance, just like bass players and drummers love to do, by playing some parts just before the beat or after the beat.

The Sounds of Drive – Summary & Action

Congratulations! You have now learned all the fundamental sounds and playing styles for drive & energy, that I come back to again and again as a composer and producer. Let’s make a quick summary of them all:

1 – Strumming

2 – Chugging

3 – Arpeggios

4 – Ostinatos

5 – Rhythmic Blocks

6 – Comping

Now take action!
Because it is the best way to move forward on your journey. I recommend you to practice all these types of driving rhythms, on various instruments & sounds in your DAW, right now. Good luck, and have fun, playing the sounds and styles of drive & energy.

Workflow Tools & Tricks

I am now going to share my personal favorite workflow tools, tricks and techniques, for adding rhythmic drive to your music composition. Let’s do this!

1. Step Input Recording

Almost every DAW has this kind of feature. It’s basically recording notes with your MIDI keyboard, without the pressure of getting the timing right, when playing it live. This means you can write new parts without stumbling and messing up the performance.

It is especially good for fast parts like ostinato patterns, or rapid arpeggios. And the good thing is that you can still mix and blend between single notes, harmonies and chords.

However, I would like to point out this: It is important that you first develop an instinct for various note values, meaning that you have a good sense for which note length you need to add, to create your performance in the sequencer. This also applies to the note value you add as a rest, or pause in the part you write.

When you practically use the step input recording method, there are two things you need to be aware of. The first being what note values you should use for every note you add, for example straight 16th notes, or perhaps 8th note triplets.

The next thing is of course which those notes should be. And that part you manually decide with your MIDI keyboard for each note.

Here’s a Power Tip:

The main downside of step input recording, is the same as manually adding notes into the sequencer with your mouse and keyboard. You end up with perfect timings and note lengths for each note in the grid. Which is of course completely robotic and unnatural.

Your savior here is the humanization features inside your DAW. You can add slight randomization to the timing of each note, as well as the length of each note. And in case you programmed a flat velocity level for all notes, you can even randomize some variation in velocity levels too. However, I prefer to directly add the velocity variation with my MIDI keyboard in the step input recording.

2. Step Sequencer

Some software instruments come with a built in step sequencer. Which is similar to step input recording, but instead of creating the performance inside your main sequencer, you add it in the step sequencer.

I find that this method works better when most of the notes in the rhythm are the same pitch, because otherwise it can be a bit tedious to program the pitch shifting for each note.

But for driving bass lines, or very rigid ostinato patterns, a step sequencer can be really fast and efficient to work with.

Here’s a Power Tip:

On some step sequencers you can add some humanization to the timing and groove. Take advantage of this to add a more organic feel to your patterns.

3. Arpeggiator

Now, here’s a really great way to add drive and energy in a super quick and easy way. Of course, it is not as powerful as writing your own arpeggio parts manually in your sequencer, but in many cases a simple flowing arpeggio line is just what you need.

Also, in many arpeggiators you can customize how the arpeggio is played, and even add in chords and harmonies on some notes.

There are basically two arpeggiator types. The first one is used as a MIDI effect in your DAW, so that you can use it on any instrument plugin. Most DAWs actually has an arpeggiator built in.

The second arpeggiator type is those that are integrated into the instrument plugin itself. Which for example can be a synth…or any type of software instrument really.

The classic arpeggio patterns include: Up, Down, Up/Down, and Down/Up. Often you get a random option as well. And you can change how many octaves the arpeggio runs on. And sometimes the arpeggiator comes with pattern presets.

Some arpeggiators are more advanced, and give you the option to actually program the pattern in more detail, like for example which chord note will be used for each division of the pattern grid.

4. Pulse Engine

A great way to add driving rhythmic movement to any sound, is to use LFO’s. LFO stands for low frequency oscillator. And basically it is a way to add a pulsing rhythm to any parameter you want. Not the notes themselves, but the actual sound.

For example, using an LFO on the filter in a synthesizer can be a great way to automate a rhythmic drive. And the great thing about LFO’s is that you not only can sync them to a note value, for example 8th notes. You can also control the wave shape, which means how the pulse rhythm feels and sounds.

A sine wave for example, makes the pulse it adds to the parameter more smooth. While a square wave jumps rapidly between the 2 values you set, on the specific parameter you mapped the LFO to.

So you have the speed of the LFO, the waveform, and finally the depth, which means how wide of a range the LFO controls the parameter it is assigned to.

Here’s a Power Tip:

You can use one single LFO to add that particular rhythmic pulse to many parameters at the same time. And, with some synths and plugins, you have access to more than one LFO. Which means you can for example have 2 completely different note values synced to the LFO’s to create more complex blends of rhythmic pulses.

5. Rhythmic Gate

If you really want to cut up your sound with a pattern of sound and silence, a rhythmic gating plugin is exactly what you need.

Basically, with a rhythmic gate you program a pattern that either let’s the sound pass, or closes the gate, meaning an abrupt pause in the sound output.

The simplest rhythmic gating plugins are often called “trance gates” because they have been heavily used in trance music over the years.

But there are also more advanced rhythmic gates that gives you control over the morphing waveforms where the gate is applied.

Here’s a Power Tip:

With most rhythmic gate plugins, you can mix how much of the gating effect you apply. 100% of course means fully a fully focused rhythmic vibe, but you can also choose to dial down the mix a bit to keep some of the original sound.

I like using this trick on pads and long sustaining sounds for example. Because then you can add the sense of rhythmic drive, but still keep the main harmonic bed of the chords so to speak.

6. Echo Effect

The delay, or echo effect, is probably the easiest way to add drive in your music. Even if it’s main purpose is to add depth and a sense of space, it can also make the part feel more busy and rhythmic.

I find that it works particularly well on slower arpeggio rhythms, or comping rhythms, to add some rhythmic movement and complexity. Especially on piano, or picking notes on a guitar.

However, if you program fast rhythms and things you want to be tight and focused, I recommend avoiding using a delay effect. For example, ostinato patterns, or chugging on electric guitar will often work best without any echo applied.

Here’s a Power Tip:

Delays have a tendency to decrease the clarity of sound. So I often use filters to remove the low-end and high-end of the delay effect. Because you most often want a tight and focused low-end, and a crisp and clear high-end.

Also panning the delayed sound out, or using a stereo delay fully panned left and right can help in keeping the original sound more clear.

Finally, some delays have something called “ducking”, which means that the delay effect is reduced every time a note is received. So that the delay becomes more prominent in between the notes, which is great because it doesn’t have to fight as much with the original sound.

Rhythmic Drive Workflow Tricks – Summary & Action

Congratulations! You have now learned all my favorite tools and workflow tricks for drive & energy, that I come back to again and again as a composer and producer. Let’s make a quick summary of them all:

1 – Step Input Recording

2 – Step Sequencer

3 – Arpeggiator

4 – Pulse Engine

5 – Rhythmic Gate

6 – Echo Effect

Now take action!
Because it is the best way to move forward on your journey. I recommend you to practice all these types of workflow tools & techniques, on various instruments & sounds in your DAW, right now. Good luck, and have fun, speeding up your workflow when creating driving rhythms in your music.

Guidelines on Rhythm & Drive

I will now share with you some of my best practical guidelines, on creating rhythms that will drive your music forward and add energy.

Remember: these are guidelines, not rules. You don’t need to follow them, but I think you will benefit from being aware of them so you can apply them however you like. Let’s begin!

1 – Note Timing Variation

I always recommend composers to be careful with quantization on any instrument or part in your music. Because all the tiny timing differences is not only what makes music more organic, human and alive.

These slight imperfections in timing even makes your overall music composition sound fuller, wider and deeper in sound. Personally I either record all the notes with my MIDI keyboard, and then use a lower quantization strength if I quantize at all. Or I simply adjust the out of time notes manually.

2 – Note Length Variation

Your rhythms will also feel more alive and soulful, if you vary the note lengths of all notes, with tiny timing variations. Meaning for example that each 8th note you add is slightly different in length. Some a tiny bit shorter than an exact 8th note, and some a tiny bit longer.

If you record using a MIDI keyboard you will get these note length variations automatically, just as you will get the timing variations. If you don’t record the parts yourself, you can use humanization features in your DAW to control both note timings and lengths.

3 – Dynamics & Accents

After note timing and length, the most powerful aspect of rhythm is the dynamics. How much each note is accented. Some notes in your rhythm will be the main accents, and should therefore have the highest velocity values in MIDI.

If you want your accents to stand out more, make sure that the dynamic differences between the softest notes and the loudest notes are very high. The more contrast in the dynamics, the more powerful your accents will become.

4 – Syncopation

Syncopation can be defined as an unexpected change in the rhythmic flow. Basically, a sudden addition or change that “break the flow of the fundamental rhythm”.

If you add an accent where it is not expected, that is also a form of syncopation. One of the most common forms of syncopation is the backbeat.

A backbeat, is a syncopated accentuation on the “off” beat in the grid. The 2 and the 4, instead of the downbeats on 1 and 3. Another way to add syncopation is to squeeze in a subdivision note into the rhythm. For example adding a note in the final 16th division of a straight 4/4 rhythm. But again, any time you do something that breaks the flow of the main rhythm, that could be considered syncopation.

5 – Rhythmic Fills

Fills are, like syncopation, also breaking the flow with a change in the rhythm. But compared to syncopation which can be used over a longer section, fills are deliberately used in certain places during the composition, to mark a shift or section point.

For example: drummers often add a little fill at the end of every 4th bar, either to spice up the rhythm with a twist, or to prepare the listener for a new section of the song. A more pronounced fill is usually played in the transition to a new section of a song, for example when you go from the verse to the chorus.

6 – Straight vs Triplets

Straight notes are by far the most common. These are the regular note values from a whole note down to a 64th note (or even smaller, even if it is extremely uncommon). For straight notes, each note value is divided in half from the previous one.

But triplets are amazing for spicing up your rhythm. They are used quite often in both orchestral and cinematic music, as well as many styles of electronic music and beats. For example adding a triplet feel in the hi-hats…or perhaps a more powerful triplet feel in the whole orchestration.

7 – Layering for Power

Layering is one of true secrets of music composition and production. Because music is a mix of only 3 fundamental colors: Rhythm, Harmony and Melody. So basically, all music is based on layering: notes, sounds and parts to paint the full story.

By stacking sounds, meaning layering the same rhythmic performance you will get a more powerful sound. For example having an 16th note ostinato strings pattern, layered with the same rhythm on a plucky synth.

8 – Layering for Augmentation

You can also use layering for augmentation. Which means to choose specific notes for layering, inside your rhythmic groove. When you layer only some selected notes in the rhythm like this, on various instruments and sounds…you will add depth, detail and interest in the overall sound. You will also increase the dynamic contrast, which is why I call it augmenting the rhythm with layering.

For example, let’s say your drums and percussion has accents on the 1 and the “and” between 2 and 3. Then you can layer other instruments in your composition to augment those divisions in the grid. You can do this either by playing only those notes with the layered instruments, like string stabs for example. Or by playing a rhythm and accenting the same notes.

9 – Rhythmic Complexity

Another important aspect is the complexity of your rhythmic patterns. From the simplest 4/4 straight drive…to the crazy complex drum solos.

You can use rhythmic complexity as a way of adding variation in your music compositions. Some sections of your music might have a more simple groove, while others have more notes in the rhythm, and more complex patterns.

10 – The Power of Silence

And finally, you can use the power of silence when you create your rhythms. Music is a pattern of sounds in time. In fact, sound and silence have equal importance in music. You can’t have music with only one of them.

I recommend you to always consider adding silence as a way to spice up your rhythms. Either by simply not writing notes in certain places in the grid, or by muting parts in your sequencer for extra effect. Which can work great in transitions for example.

Alright, let’s continue your journey in the next lecture, right now.

Rhythm & Drive Guidelines – Summary & Action

Congratulations! You have now learned all my fundamental guidelines for driving rhythms in music composition and production. And remember, guidelines can be broken, as long as you are aware of them, and know what you do.

Let’s make a quick summary of these Rhythm & Drive Guidelines:

1 – Note Timing Variation

2 – Note Length Variation

3 – Dynamics & Accents

4 – Syncopation

5 – Rhythmic Fills

6 – Straight vs Triplets

7 – Layering for Power

8 – Layering for Augmentation

9 – Rhythmic Complexity

10 – The Power of Silence

Now take action!
Practice all these guidelines, on various instruments & sounds in your DAW, right now. Listen to how they impact the rhythm, groove and overall sound of your music composition. Have fun, experimenting with rhythm.

Congratulations – You are Amazing!

Congratulations! You have now completed my course, and learned how to add, shape and perform parts that add rhythmic drive and energy to your music compositions.

Now take action. Because the only way to move forward on any journey, is to take a step forward, and then another step, and so on. Practice all tips and guidelines you have learned in my course, and focus especially on:

  • The Foundations of Driving Rhythms
  • The Sounds & Styles of Drive & Energy
  • Workflow Tools & Tricks for adding Drive
  • Practical Guidelines on Rhythm & Drive

So take action, and remember my mantra for success:

  • Learn every Day
  • Practice every Day
  • Create every Day

My name is Mike, and I wish you good luck and great success as a professional composer.

 


My name is Mikael “Mike” Baggström, and I am a composer, sound designer, artist, video creator, coffee lover, science geek and true nerd…

I want to invite you to Join Professional Composers today (Free to Join).

2018-09-18T15:35:15+00:00