GCSE A-Level Composition

Composing at Home 4

Composing a Rhythmic Piece

It is clear that we can start a piece with just a Rhythm, but we are going to need to do a little more than just alter some things. Our Rhythmic piece is going to need to explore a great deal more in order be satisfying and enjoyable. All of this can be done on paper, and it is arguably a really good way of learning or recapping knowledge of notation, rhythm and general musical skills.

So lets consider what we are going to explore in our Rhythmic piece:

  • Syncopation
  • Use of Triplets
  • Cross-Rhythms
  • Phasing – like in clapping music where rhythms gradually go “out of time” with each other.
  • Retrograding
  • Accents
  • Hemiola
  • Rubato
  • Polyrhythms
  • Time Signatures
  • Homo-Rhythmic section
  • Unison Rhythms
  • Repetition

In our exploration of these features we may alter the note values and change our Rhythms, that is fine. The point behind this Composing at Home task is that you explore Rhythm and create a piece at home that doesn’t need any software or instruments. Of course, hearing your piece being played or performed would be great – but you could easily recruit some family members to help you.


Apologies to drummers who may not appreciate this, but in order to perform your piece I want you to think about what you have at home. Pots, pans, boxes, containers – grab anything that you can use to create a piece. You might write something that you can perform alone, but you might need to recruit someone else to play along. It might be that you record one part and then play over the top of that. Whilst I think you can avoid using software, it might be could to at least record your ideas in your phone or tablet.

Composing Process

  1. Generate a Rhythm.
  2. Work out what you can do with this Rhythm.
  3. What other Rhythmic layers do you now need – a Constant Beat, a Counter-Rhythm or another Rhythmic Subject.
  4. Once you have gathered your ideas work out how you are going to notate your piece. Writing out the music on a piece of paper will be a really good exercise. It will help prepare you for GCSE & A-Level exams where you have to notate rhythms & melodies.
  5. How might you start to add some structure to you piece? Maybe think about a common form such as Ternary Form.
  6. What “Instruments” are you going to use for your piece and do you need to recruit any performers. It would be great to get a family members to play along as that will make it an even more enjoyable activity.
  7. Remember, in order to make your piece interesting and credible you neeed to try and explore as many of the features listed above.
  8. Perform, Record & Refine your piece.

Your piece does not need to be long! But I think it would be good for you to explore as many features as you can.


The goal behind this Composing at Home task is to explore Rhythm, learn about key Rhythmic features & devices and create a piece of music. This piece of music will take you through the Discovery, Notation and Performance phases and you will come out with something that you can review. Hopefully you can find away to notate the piece and even record the finished performance.

A composition of this nature is not only going to give you something to focus on, but it will teach you a huge amount about the power of Rhythm. Pitch, Melody, Harmony & Tonality are not important here, this is all about beats & note values.

As you explore Rhythm always keep in mind that music relies on Rhythm, it is the heart-beat of all we listen to. There are countless examples, millions of examples in fact, of music that has such a rhythmic groove to it that we tap our feet or get up and dance. Hopefully your exploration of Rhythm in this Composing at Home task will open your eyes to the power of Note Values and the various devices we can use to shape and alter them.

Please signup for email updates so that you never miss a useful idea or an interesting read!

Leave a Reply