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What is rhythm in music? A guide for beginners

Apple, in Music lessons
May 03, 2022 | 6 min read

In this post, we’ll explore the importance of rhythm in music, as well as in other art forms. We’ll also take a look at how rhythm can influence our daily lives. The understanding of what rhythm is and its importance will open new avenues for expressive exploration. It could even change the way you relate with the rhythmic aspect of music. Read on to learn all about it! 

Rhythm in music

Depending on certain music genres, rhythm can be one of the most defining characteristics of that genre. Think: Blues, Funk, Rock, Jazz, and music from different cultures. Rhythm is the time element of music. It is related to tempo, the duration of sounds, and to its rhythmic patterns and variations over time. It is an interplay of sound and silence. 

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Usually, we hear these patterns in relation to a steady pulse. And we mentally organize this pulse into a meter, dividing them into beats per measure or bar. Rhythm is not an exclusive element explored by percussive instruments, as melodies also have implied rhythm. Ultimately, it is how we can control the melodic flow and maintain interest. The same goes for harmony with the harmonic rhythm or how often the chords change. 

Rhythm in other art forms

But rhythm is not present only in music. In poetry, words can be arranged in a more or less regular sequence and/or according to long or short syllables. These words altogether form a cadence, a metrical movement and rhythmical form. In painting or architecture, you can find it in the alternating patterns of light and shade, colours, and mass. Or in film, with the length of the scenes, speech timing, and the recurring themes. 

All to create movement, tension and emotional value in the development of the plot. Any sequence of a regularly occurring event, such as the heartbeat, may imply rhythm, beats or pulse. It provides endless material and inspiration for your music compositions. 

Rhythm and music expressiveness

Studies in the field of Music Psychology show that modulating certain aspects of the musical elements induces emotional responses. For instance, it has been found that powerful external rhythms influence the internal bodily rhythm (i.e. increased heart rate). And in time the body rhythm adjusts to the external stimulus. 

In turn, this internal adjustment induces a certain emotional response or feeling in the listener. This happens with other musical elements, like the type of scale a melody is based upon, degree of dissonance or consonance in chords, etc. 

Apart from how loud a certain rhythm can be played, this element can be explored in other expressive ways. Perhaps the most obvious one would be manipulating tempo by performing a rhythmic phrase slower or faster. Many experimental results confirm that tempo clearly determines whether a piece of music sounds sad or happy. 

Words like “stressing” or “amusing” are related to high tempo music. While the terms “relaxing” or “boring” are associated with low tempo. This indicates that changing tempo alters the perception of the emotional value of a given musical cue. Music with higher rhythmic units, like sixteenth notes, is attributed to similar emotional value as music with a high tempo. Lower rhythmic units on the other hand, such as whole and half notes, correlate to low tempo music. 

The following shows some of the findings that are common to studies in the field of Music Psychology

Ebb and flow

Another important feature associated with tempo is that it doesn’t have to be locked. This means that you can gradually increase or decrease tempo (beats per minute) – Accelerando or Ritardando, respectively. This is a way of manipulating the listener’s emotional perception of music. A sense of stillness to an impending tragedy. 

The theory of ebb and flow suggests that arousal and emotional responses can be induced in a listener. This happens when a specific feature of music violates, delays, or confirms the listener’s expectations about the continuation of it.

This means that introducing novelty and variations in music is a key factor to maintain interest. Evoking emotional responses and conveying a message – although not introducing any novelty at all, can also be used as means to express something. 

Conclusion 

In this post we have touched some key aspects about what is rhythm and ways of exploring its expressive nature. And now, the ball is on your side. As simple as these concepts may be, they carry a lot of power that you can use for the benefit of your musicianship. So, be sure to keep them in mind as you develop your musical skills. 


About the author:

Pedro Murino Almeida is an Award-Winning composer with the musical project Follow No One, expert musician and experienced music teacher. He maintains a blog called Beyond Music Theory with the aim of providing tools and instruction for beginning to advanced music students and those wishing to learn about music theory, how to use it and improve their songwriting and music production skills. 

Soundbrenner is a company dedicated to helping musicians stay focused on what truly matters: their music. By creating innovative devices, such as Soundbrenner Pulse and Core, our goal is to deliver the best possible practice experience for musicians. Click here to find out more.

Got a question about Soundbrenner wearables? Reach out to us at [email protected], we’re happy to help!

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