Tips & Tricks of the Trade // Music Fundamentals - Rhythm Basics



Music Rhythm - Basics
- 23 August 2016

Introduction
Very early on I need to clear the potential conflict between definitions of tempo and rhythm.
  • Rhythm = movement/placement of the beat (sounded or silent) in a piece of music.
  • Tempo = the speed of the rhythm, usually marked in ‘bpm' (beats per minute.)
The tempo is marked at the top of sheet music as illustrated below.

Tempo marking Example

Simple as that. So the tempo will determine how slow or fast the general pace of the music piece should be. I say general pace, because further markings within the notated music could alter the tempo.
So, to make things clearer, 60 bpm is half the speed of 120 bpm. There’s a wonderful free app called ‘Metronome’ that you can download from your favourite App store. Otherwise, any metronome will still work.
If you’re in a choir or an orchestra, the tempo is usually determined by the choir conductor. In a band, the drummer would usually cue in the tempo (and hopefully maintain it… he he)

Choir Conductor image

Now let’s address rhythm. To become a music literate, one of the first things you need to master is how beats are measured over time. i.e. Note Values.
So let us use the most basic time signature (I will cover time signatures in detail in a future lesson) of 4/4.
Clap and repeat in loops of 4 and emphasise the 1 beat with every cycle. (Please choose a nicely relaxed tempo)
So it’s:
Loud(1) soft(2) soft(3) soft(4)
Loud(1) soft(2) soft(3) soft(4)
Loud(1) soft(2) soft(3) soft(4) - and so on…

That was easy right? See, you already have an inherent understanding of the 4/4 time signature (also known as the common time and alternatively denoted with a C for common at the beginning of music charts where applicable.)

Each cycle you complete is equivalent to what we call a Bar in music. Yupp, I can see you smiling already thinking of all those music jokes that start with the archetypal 2 notes walk into a Bar ;)
Every time you complete a cycle (1, 2, 3, 4) you have indeed gone through a Bar. So looking at the earlier clapping example, you can see that I’d clapped for 3 Bars.

Now that you’re comfortable with that idea, let’s get into the meat of it.

Semibreve or Whole Note
A Bar can be equal to 1 Whole Note! (*This is certainly true for 4/4 time signatures. Variations will be discussed in a future lesson.*)
A moment ago you were counting in cycles of 4 beats (1, 2, 3, 4). Yet if you did the same thing again, but this time around clap only the 1 beat and sound the other 3 in your head.
You would get:

Clap(1) hum(2) hum(3) hum(4)
Clap(1) hum(2) hum(3) hum(4)
Clap(1) hum(2) hum(3) hum(4)

So we still clapped 3 Bars, yet this time, we clapped ONLY on the 1 beat. To depict this more accurately, if you sang the vowel A instead of clapping, you would sound the A on the 1 beat and sustain it till the 4th measure and start again and so forth. This is what a Whole Note is! Also known as a Semibreve.
Simplistically put, it is a note equivalent in length to 4 Quarter Notes.

Here's a visual to help with this concept.

Rhythm Chart

Minim or Half Note
Then we have a Minim or Half Note. It’s exactly what it claims to be. It’s exactly half of a Whole Note.
Consider the previous example where you sustained A for the entire length of a Bar. This time however, to demonstrate a Half Note, sound the A twice in a 4/4 Bar. Like so:

Clap(1) hum(2) Clap(3) hum(4)
Clap(1) hum(2) Clap(3) hum(4)
Clap(1) hum(2) Clap(3) hum(4)
Or
A(1) - aa(2) - A(3) - aa(4)
A(1) - aa(2) - A(3) - aa(4)
A(1) - aa(2) - A(3) - aa(4)

And just like that, you understand what a Minim or Half Note is (:

Crochet or Quarter Note
A Quarter Note (also known as a Crochet) is precisely how we counted our beats at the beginning of the lesson.
We took the Whole Note and divided it into 4 beats, hence the profoundly imaginative name, Quarter Note - thanks to the Americans for devising such an obvious naming convention. The British on the other hand concocted the ever-elusive notation epithets, Semibreve, Minims, and now Crochet. Google Crochet to see exactly how elusive this label can be ;) Eish, I digress..
Continuing with our counting exercise, this measure would go something like this:

Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4)

Or sound it instead
A(1) A(2) A(3) A(4)
A(1) A(2) A(3) A(4)
A(1) A(2) A(3) A(4)


As simple as that you have learnt what a Crochet/Quarter Note is.

Quaver or 1/8th Note
Following along neatly we have the Quaver or Eighth Note. These are half the duration of the Quarter Notes. So 8 Quavers are equivalent in length to 1 Whole Note! Right?
The easier way to count them out is to include the word ‘and’ between the numbers as such:

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and
1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and
1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and


In each one of the Bars you in fact counted 8 beats. If you’re reading this then you must indeed be getting the hang of this (:

Semiquaver or 1/16th Note
The next one in line is the Semiquaver or Sixteenth Note. As you guessed it, it’s half of the Quaver. Therefore, 16 Semiquavers are equivalent in length to the Semibreve or 1 Whole Note.
I normally use the scat phrase ‘pa da da’ to count the spaces between the numerics.
So it would be:

1 pa da da 2 pa da da 3 pa da da 4 pa da da
1 pa da da 2 pa da da 3 pa da da 4 pa da da
1 pa da da 2 pa da da 3 pa da da 4 pa da da


And there you have it, 16 beats in each Bar (:
Beyond the Semiquaver, you have the Demisemiquaver (32nd note) and Hemidemisemiquaver (64th note) and beyond; the beat goes on at least till the human ear finds it too ridiculous to care..
Apparently Martians speak in semihemidemisemihemidemisemiquavers! [crickets chirp..]

NB!!! As the beats in a Bar increase, the temptation is to assume that the tempo also increases. It may sound like so, but it does not! Unless there is an additional symbol that marks the change in the tempo. It’s a pitfall that tumbles many developing musicians.

Rests
Now you would have noticed that on the right side of the Basic Rhythm Chart there are symbols called Rests. In music, a Rest (and its length thereof) is equally as important as a sounded note. And as such, it’s crucial to equally understand how long to Rest in a given Bar. Now that you’ve learnt Note values, Rests become super easy to master!
A Semibreve Rest means you’re quiet for a period of 1 Whole note. A Crochet rest means you’re quiet for a period of a Quarter note and so forth.

You are under a rest joke
He he.. I hear you chuckling away at that one ;)

Try to sing the vowel E to the pattern below (left to right):

Beat Practice Image

Practice
A great trick to improve your sense of rhythm is to find sheet music and simply try to sound vowels against the note values.

Have fun. See you in the next lesson = Rhythm - dotted notes.

Do you have questions? Post them in the comments area below (:

- written by MegaMidas
Musician at Africappella

Join our Newsletter

Please enter your first name

Please enter your last name

Please enter a valid email address

Please enter a valid City name



Join our Newsletter



Please enter your first name

Please enter your last name

Please enter a valid email address

Please enter a valid City name



Paypal contributions



We are working on a few exciting projects to get the Africappella brand to the next level. You can help us make our music products more accessible by pledging a small donation.

function makeCountries() { $.ajax({url:'handler_countries.php', dataType: 'html', method: 'POST', processData: false, data: "", success: function (data) { //alert(data); $(data).appendTo('.countryList'); }, error: function (xhr, status, error) { console.log(error); } }); } var frm = $('.subForm'); frm.submit(function (ev) { $.ajax({url:'handler_mailing.php', dataType: 'html', method: 'POST', processData: false, data: frm.serialize(), success: function (data) { var successMessage = "Thank you for signing up.. You're now in the inner vocal jazz circle ;)"; if (data == successMessage) { alert(data); }else{ alert(data); } frm[0].reset(); } }); ev.preventDefault(); $('[class*="Error"]').hide(); }); var popFrm = $('#popForm'); popFrm.submit(function (ev) { $.ajax({url:'handler_mailing.php', dataType: 'html', method: 'POST', processData: false, data: popFrm.serialize(), success: function (data) { var successMessage = "Thank you for signing up.. You're now in the inner vocal jazz circle ;)"; if (data == successMessage) { alert(data); }else{ alert(data); } frm[0].reset(); } }); ev.preventDefault(); $('[class*="Error"]').hide(); });