What is Rhythm?
Rhythm is the sequence of sounds in time.
In other common musical terms, it is also referred to as ritmo (Italian), rythme (French) and Rhythmus (German).
“What are the three most important things in music? Rhythm, rhythm, and rhythm.”
- Jere Flint
You can’t talk about form and genre without talking about rhythm, which is the most basic element of music theory. You can write a piece of music without a melody line or without harmonic accompaniment, but you just can’t write a piece of music without rhythm — unless, of course, your “music” is one single, sustained note with no variations in pitch.
As I mentioned previously, rhythm is a sequence of sounds in time. Whatever kind of sounds. It is natural that we use the term ‘rhythm’ to talk about the cycles of nature, the sequence of seasons, day and night, the rhythms associated with our body - inhale-exhale, heartbeat, stepping left-right. Rhythms have been organised differently in music in different eras and countries. In Gregorian chants, the rhythm was very simple and it was based on monotonous rhythmic values, extended only in the endings of phrases. Then, when polyphony forced the need to match the voices in time, the rhythm of the feet, such as in poetic feet, was used. A long note corresponded to an accented syllable, and a short note to an accented syllable.
Rhythm moves through music as a generative force in several different ways. Rhythm is as much melodic as it is temporal. It refers to the temporal pattern of a melody. Beat (or pulse) is the part of the song your toes tap along to and your head nods to. Meter helps organize notes into groups using a time signature and defines the repetitive pattern of strong and weak beats that noticeably move a song along. (The individual measures in a piece of music determine the meter.)
Any musician needs to study and practice rhythm, the same way that they need to practice any other technique, because the rhythm can be refined and developed.
Rhythm is a common and fundamental phenomenon, but also fascinatingly complicated.
And I will explain all the complications in the next posts.
At the end a fantastic way to teach rhythm notation, but it might make you hungry 😋