The Rule of Threes in music is the idea that a song should have three main components: rhythm, melody, and a wildcard. Rhythm is not only the drums or percussions but all repeating elements of the song. Melody is the tune that the listener hums or sings along to. The wildcard is a unique aspect of the track, such as an unusual sound, unexpected chord change, or a special effect, that sets it apart and makes it memorable. It is also referred as “ear candy” or “special element”.
All three components are interconnected. If you only have the melody, it will have some repeating phrases creating rhythm. Deviations of thimble, articulation or rhythm will become the wildcard. In modern music, we have pretty clear expectations for rhythm and melody, which adds a bit of mystery to the third element, but in practice, it is simple.
Wile writing a song
Think of all three elements from the beginning. Leave some space for the wildcard. If your strumming pattern is “too boring”, leave it like that. You can spice it up later with percussions by adding extra pulses or breaks. If the chord progression is too short or too long for a line, use it as an opportunity for another instrument to fill in the gap. You can also introduce a harmony change in the bridge or last chorus.
Leaving enough space while writing the song will help you during the arrangement stage. There are entire books written about arrangements, but just keep the Rule of Threes always in mind. All three elements should be present.
You can also divide the space between all three elements by separating the frequency ranges, timbre, articulation, vibrato and other effects.
At this stage, your job is to make the listener hear all three elements. Not “every single element of the mix”, but the main three elements. The rhythm should sound like one pulsing element making the listener nod, the melody should cut through, and the wildcard should keep the listener engaged.
This technique is used:
Stages of production: ideation arrangement sound design mixing