Music Theory: Rhythm (What is Rhythm?  What is Meter? How do Beats work?)

hi I’m Sean Bassett I’m Ian Bassett and
welcome to music theory and this is your episode on rhythm there’s just no getting around it we
have to talk rhythm not in the pop culture cool kind of way more in a clap
your hands kind of way rhythm is the most fundamental aspect of music think
of music as humans exerting their mastery over time the way our brains and
bodies work though we need some sort of pattern so we can help sort through all
the endless combinations of what we can do with pitch in comes rhythm with big
old signposts check in here go down the road meet Hank there he’ll tell you
what’s going on you see without rhythm our brains can’t interpret or categorize
what’s going on so you could be the best note person is that a thing it’s kind of
a thing but you could be the best note person in the world but as soon as you
get off rhythm everybody else in the room is gonna step off your musical
train so what is rhythm and how does meter factor into all of this
at its core rhythm is a pattern of regular and irregular pulses we’ve all
heard the word beat before often describing something in a song we like a
beat is a pulse of time we like beats that divide time into a series of equal
lengths that beat can exist on a note often note in empty space by
intrinsically once it is set up for us it’s there to help it sets up the
predictable aspect of music it’s important to remember that we are
talking about the time aspect of music not the pitch aspect are all beats the
same okay that was a completely unnecessary question since you all know
the answer is no but I like the Socratic method to add some class to these videos
the rate at which beats occur is called tempo and as our last hypothetical was
probing at these recurring beats happen at different speeds in different songs
so we got it right different notes at different speeds and different tempos
make up for those yup wait no no what are you trying to do man? Get this done
quickly so we can edit less… okay that’s a huge misconception yes it has to do with
speed but not exactly in the way you think. Yeah there’s a huge difference
between speed and our word of the day Subdivision. If you’ve ever looked at a
piece of music you’re gonna notice that some notes are empty some notes are full
some notes have flags some are beamed together and there’s dots and all these
other kinds of things on the score they all have to do with subdivision and if
you’ve never looked at a piece of music you might notice that there might be one
organizational beat pattern but there’s still different note lights that appear
to be regular. I think it’s time we look at some notes and some different note
values. $10 can I get $11? You don’t have to solidly reject standard notation every time I
bring it up… This is a rhythm tree understanding this graphical
representation will help you extremely in understanding what actually happens
most commonly in music with rhythm and note values now I’ll admit not all music
adheres to these principles just 99.9999% of it the other stuff you
wouldn’t like anyway where this graphic excels has shown us the fact of the
episodes notes set in a rhythm are not speeding up and slowing down randomly in
music they are subdividing into equal parts the different combinations of
these subdivided parts can give us endless even random sounding note
lengths but rarely are they actually random let’s use visual distance as an
example think of this long line as your whole note to be honest it’s hard to
think of a long distance and keep track of it easily we’ll get there in a second
but bear with me if you want to hear one whole note it’s like looking at the full
length of this line but what if you want something smaller but didn’t want to
waste any space well what would you naturally do this line you would divide
it in half that is what a half note is two half notes exist evenly inside one
whole note you’ll go down further into the tree and see our next level of
subdivision the quarter note two quarter notes exist evenly inside the half note
so four quarter notes exist evenly inside the whole note
we should also mention that quarter notes in 4/4 meter which we’ll get to
later is the part that you would counter yourself regardless of having larger
notes there are two even eighth notes inside of a quarter note so there are
four eighth notes inside of a half note and eight eighth notes inside of a whole
note there are two evenly spaced sixteenth notes inside of an eighth note
there are four inside of a quarter note eight inside of a half note and sixteen
inside of a whole note and so on they get pretty small interestingly enough
just the names of these rhythmic note types tend to give away their
subdivisions inside that big ol whole note just remember it’s a predetermined
set distance for your ear. Distance for your ear I’ll let you put that in your
pipe and smoke it! there’s no getting around it the best
way to do this stuff is outloud elementary school style. “Are you watching video in a crowd of popular kids? If so, Good for you! But chances are you’re not. So don’t be shy and join in! We can all clap right?And count to at least 4? we’ve discussed
music as a language many times on this channel before but today let’s do a
little bit differently let’s talk about your mouth you see your mouth can
decipher signals from your brain way faster than the rest of your body so you
may be able to do something with your mouth but your hands just aren’t ready
for so it’s perfect for practicing rhythm need an example okay ever say
something that you’ve instantly regretted because your mouth was faster
than your brain your mouth isn’t faster than your brain but it’s
faster than your judgement center! what my brother’s trying to sell you on is
starting out rhythm away from your instrument simply by singing or clapping
along so what we want you and those popular kids sit in a circle for us
cross-legged the best way to start rhythm is like anything else approach it
with an open mind when you hear that it’s code for shut your piehole and just
act stupid so you can absorb new information here’s the metronome for now
it is your friend actually it’s your enemy but in that kind of superhero a
hero is only as good as his villains type of way a metronome will challenge
you it will frustrate you it will confuse you and confound you but it will
never lie to you its rhythm will not change despite you thinking to yourself
I’m on the beat how come I’m not on with the metronome because you’re not on and
your metronome is telling you the truth first we need to understand which one of
these notes in the rhythm tree you are hearing now this can be subjective you
can pick to alter where you’re at on the tree depending on how you need to work
on something but from the most basic perspective a 4/4 beat will track your
notes at the quarter note level meaning you’ll get four beats per measure or
four beats before we need to start over again from one so count with me 1 2 3 4 great I know what you’re thinking “how the @#$% do
I count anything else but a quarter?” well let’s go to the big notes first. For half notes you’ll need those four divided notes to only be divided into
two even notes so what do you do? you count one, three
think of those beats two and four internally or whisper them and that
whole note same process but you need one even note instead of four so all you
need to do is count one, one, one… use the two three and four to keep track of
where you are because long notes start to space out our brains and we don’t
internally subdivide them Internally subdivide externally long rolls off the tongue I wish now let’s appeal to those
shredders out there what about notes that are more subdivided well we’ve run
out of numbers if we can only count to four lucky for us way back when they
came up with a system of helping out you can still count one two three and four
exactly the same as where they exist in time for the quarter notes but in
between the evenly divided spaces you can add the word “and” meaning in the
space of four quarter notes given eight eighth notes you would count one and two
and three and four and remember all of the beats are evenly spaced and the
numbers counted are in the same spot as they were for the quarter notes at each
of the activation points I hear your eyebrow-raising well what about
sixteenth notes we now have four points of activation in the space we previously
added two so we need two more spots to fill in in the space of a quarter note
we now have four evenly spaced points at which we count “one E and a” the “one”
exists exactly where it did for the quarter note the “and” also lines up with
the “and” we added during the eighth note section the “E” and the “a” exist evenly
subdivided in the spaces between the numbers and the “and” so if we look at a
line and call it a quarter note length it subdivides as so “one” one
and one E and a it’s important no matter how you’re counting and clapping
that you’re giving the notes their full length and their full note values
because truthfully if you’re counting and clapping what you’re really just
doing is signalling where the note activates when executing a note on your
instrument or seeing it’s really important that you don’t cut the note
short in space in other words if a note is supposed to be this long you don’t
want to make it this long unless it’s staccato or otherwise
indicated that you should make the note shorter but that’s another show so we’ve
got beats covered and how long they are but what about the framework in which
beats actually exist sure you can have a bead but how many do
you have and is it always the quarter note that indicates the beat? not at all
you can pick any subdivision level and how many times you’d like to hear it
rhythmically we of course have many conventions which we already use perhaps
you’ve heard of 4/4? what does that mean? the top number tells you the number of
beats in each measure when the top number says four you count “one two three
four” of what might that be? the bottom number tells you which note gets one
beat that bottom four tells us that the quarter note equals one beat or one tick
on that pesky metronome some common denominators to look out for are two
which equals a half note four is a quarter note eight is an eighth note and
16 is a sixteenth note can we at least get the simple and compound meters
something tells me we’re going to but it’s a big subject
okay so simple meters they feel even something like 4/4 – one two three
four – you can feel each beat and it’s pretty even now compound meters are a
different thing so if the top number is divisible by three say in 6/8 we only
feel the subdivisions think an 1800s ballroom one two and thirty points
different meters have different characteristics for example 4/4 is
pretty straightforward while 6/8 which has six eighth notes has
a totally different feel and bounce to it we will at a later date get into the
different poles of each type of meter and how they can be manipulated that
brings us to our final almost bonus effect – a measure. A measure or
sometimes called a bar simply it’s a length of time for one of your meter
counts to be completed so in 4/4 it means that beats 1 2 3 4 exist in a
chunk then it starts all over again in the next measure. measures are the way we
keep track while writing musics and sonically we are keeping track with
pulses basically measures make things easier because they set up a sort of
grid for us to track things I guess my explanations don’t always measure up…ha…ha… so
that’s rhythm and it’s fundamentally probably the most important aspect of
music because music is an art that exists in time and rhythm makes it able
to be tracked and understood now notes sure are important but I like frame it
like this rhythm is that train that you and your audience are riding together if
you play wrong note it’s just a tiny bump in the train but if your rhythm
comes off that whole train derails We’ll be uploading some fun, albeit a
little bit nerdy rhythmic exercises in the future so if you liked this episode
stay tuned for more to recap I just like to say thanks to everyone
for watching this week’s episode of music theory if you liked this episode
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to visit our website at And, thanks again for watching. That was your episode on Rhythm.Go Practice And share with your friends We are still gonna #*[email protected]&^ it up. It can’t make the blooper because I said @$^%. Take one. Fastest deciphering ability, which you wouldn’t get from my…. *sigh* and share with your friends. and share
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4 thoughts on “Music Theory: Rhythm (What is Rhythm? What is Meter? How do Beats work?)

  1. These episodes are fantastic!!  I'm a special education teacher, and you really 'grab' the students.  We stop and discuss as we go along, then we put that to element to music they like to listen to.Do you have any more episodes in the works?  I love 'em!  – Dee

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