Elijah Fox: How to Create Simple Piano Patterns That Sound Complex (Video)

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A little rhythmic movement can go a long way when it comes to building flowing textures on the piano

This is one of the foundations of Elijah Fox’s unique, “Impressionist” style across all of his creative efforts from composing to improvising to producing, and detailed in full throughout his new course on Soundfly. For Elijah, a simple displacement of the rhythm patterns in a phrase can have an enormous effect on the end result, as the arpeggios take on a “pulling” feeling, exuding so much more emotion. 

It’s a simple trick yet it sounds so complex; it’s creative and opens up new possibilities for your playing, your techniques, and your writing. 

Watch the video above, and we’ll break down the technique he calls “Rhythmic Displacement” below.

Common Time With a Taste of Complexity

Though the examples he plays throughout the video are all in common time (4/4), by exploring different ways of dividing the sixteenth notes in each measure, he’s able to create an entirely different kind of feel and hint at time signatures that are more complex.


The math is pretty simple. In each measure of 4/4, we have room for four quarter notes, or eight eighth notes, or sixteen sixteenth notes, and so forth.

When thinking about sixteenth-note patterns in 4/4, we usually break them into four groups of four notes. Typically, each beat is emphasized, while the notes in between are less prominent — thus, “1-e-&-a, 2-e-&-a, 3-e-&-a, 4-e-&-a.”

In the video, Elijah demonstrates this by repeating a simple phrase played over the chord progression: F–9 | C–9.

Notice that by default, each time that first note of the phrase is played (the G over the F–9 or the D over the C–9), it naturally feels like it’s being slightly accented.


What happens if we break those sixteen notes into combinations other than 4+4+4+4?

That’s exactly what Elijah demonstrates when, instead of playing four four-note phrases, he breaks each measure into two five-note phrases and a six-note phrase (which you can also think of as two three-note phrases).

He’s still playing sixteen notes in 4/4 time, but now, those natural moments of emphasis aren’t landing right on beats one, two, three, and four.

The first five-note phrase starts on beat one, but the second starts on the “e” of beat two and the six-note phrase starts on the “&” of beat three.

4+4+4+4: 1-e-&-a 2-e-&-a 3-e-&-a 4-e-&-a

5+5+6: 1-e-&-a 2-e-&-a 3-e-&-a 4-e-&-a

Continued Exploration

Later in the video, Elijah does another example, this time using the pattern 7+5+4 (or 4+3+5+4). Of course, that isn’t the only other way to divide sixteen notes in 4/4. You could do 4+4+3+5… or 5+3+5+3… and so forth.

As an exercise, you could also push this idea even further — perhaps focusing on divisions of eight or thirty-two notes. Before you do that though, it’s time to try the original version yourself.

Using the chords F–9 and C–9, come up with your own arpeggiated patterns of 16 notes. Explore different combinations of numbers adding up to 16. Notice how you can use this kind of rhythmic displacement to imply odd time signatures and unique feels without actually leaving 4/4.

If you come up with any ideas you really like, be sure to share them with us and the Soundfly community on Discord!

Play Your Heart Out!

Continue your learning adventure on Soundfly with modern, creative courses on songwriting, mixing, production, composing, synths, beats, and more by artists like KieferKimbraCom TruiseJlinRyan Lott, RJD2, and our newly launched Elijah Fox: Impressionist Piano & Production.

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