GCSE A-Level Composition

Composing at Home 4

In my previous two Composing at Home blogs I have looked at Instrumental compositions and Vocal compositions. The blogs have focussed on how to get started with composition without relying on computers or even instruments.

In this blog I am going to consider how drummers might compose at home without any software and potentially without a drum-kit! But of course you don’t need to be a drummer to complete this task. I just wanted to highlight that it can be hard for drummers at home if they don’t have a drum-kit to play!

Drumming without Drums

It should be no surprise to you that you can Drum without Drums. That is because we can create a Rhythm using just our hands, bodies, feet or anything lying around that can be struck. Thinking outside the box is what this Composing at Home series is all about. But in fact, get a box, that would also be good to hit!

Our Drumming or Rhythmic composition is going to start with one basic thing, a Rhythm. Understanding Rhythm means understanding Note Values, Metre, Time and Groove. If we are going to create a piece of music based around Rhythm then we need to come up with a Rhythmic starting point.


I guess the best example of a piece that is based around one rhythm that doesn’t use any instruments is Clapping Music by Steve Reich. Not only is there a great app to allow you to learn this piece but there are also some great videos that bring the piece to life:

Hopefully that video has got your mind working and shown how a Rhythm can be used to create a piece of music. But of course clapping music is much more than just a rhythm, but we will look at that later.

Body Beats

To get your Rhythms flowing even more you might like to check out Ollie Tunmer on Youtube as he has some great videos that explore Rhythm.


I am sure you will come away with lots of great ideas and you will certainly be ready to create your own piece.


The first thing to create is an interesting Rhythm and this can be noted down on a sheet of paper – no software needed. I know you will most likely have software, or even a Drum-Kit available to you, but don’t worry about using it.

Now lets think about all we can get out of this Rhythm that you have created. I have come up with a Rhythm to use:

Why not try clapping this Rhythm back to get you thinking about your Rhythm. Is this Rhythm a “good” Rhythm or do changes need to be made? Make sure that as you come up with ideas you review them and think about changes that you might make.

Altering Rhythms

Now lets think about all the things we can do with this Rhythmic starting point:

  1. Add Accents.
  2. Change the Time Signature.
  3. Augment or Diminish the Rhythm.
  4. Turn the Rhythm backwards – Retrograde the Rhythm

Lets see what my Rhythm looks like with some of these changes

Hopefully you can identify the changes I have made to the Rhythm, but have these changes really been effective? What can we learn from this process about creating a rhythmic piece of music?

The top two changes are possibly the most effective in terms of making something new. The first shows the addition of accents and the second is the Rhythm Retrograde (turned backwards). The Third is simply a Rhythmically Diminished version, so it just sounds faster, and the fourth sounds slower – Rhtyhmically Augmented. And the final version in 6/8 time actually sounds exactly the same in many ways, just with a slightly different time signature. Just changing time signature doesn’t always make that much impact. You need to actually change the beats & stresses of the beat to make a real impact.

Now let’e move on to Page 2 where we create our own Rhythmic Piece.

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