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  • by Mary Barton

Rhythm, Beat & Tempo: What's the Difference? Part 2

Updated: Dec 26, 2019

Now that we’ve learned the most basic element of rhythm, we’re ready to take our understanding of rhythm a step further.

Remember this simple rhythm pattern from last time?

BOOM boom boom boom BOOM boom boom boom

We said these booms out loud, with a consistent tempo, as if counting seconds, while stressing the capitalized booms, and BOOM! WE HAD RHYTHM!

But what would happen if, while repeating these booms out loud at a consistent tempo (speed), we not only stressed the capitalized booms but also divided one of the booms into 2 equal parts?

BOOM boom bo-om boom BOOM boom bo-om boom

Can you hear the difference? We are squeezing 2 shorter beats, like even syllables, into one beat, much like language. We do this all day long in conversation without realizing it. Language has a built-in rhythm.

Try saying the following sentence (don’t fill in the blank – say the word “blank”; it will make sense shortly!):

I want blank home.

What you are really saying, rhythmically, is this:

BOOM boom boom boom.

But what about now?

I want to go home.

You will naturally say “to go” in the space of one beat, like two evenly divided syllables.

Rhythmically, it’s this:

BOOM boom bo-om boom.

And because we tend to contract words, we actually, in everyday conversation, say it more like this:

I want t’ go home.

We don’t always fully complete the “o” on “to” because we’re speaking fast. It’s often barely perceptible.

Rhythmically, it’s this:

BOOM boom b-oom boom.

The only time in conversation that you would say “to” and “go” (in this context) as separate full beats is if you wanted to stress the fact that you want TO GO!

I want to go home!

BOOM boom boom boom boom!

Saying it with that rhythm is more emphatic because we are drawing out each word. But we don’t speak like this normally. Words are divided into syllables, and they have a natural, mathematical precision rhythmically, and we don’t even really think about it! Music has the same precision.

So now we have learned two different examples of a beat divided up:

  1. Into equal subdivisions: to go

  2. Into VARIED subdivisions : t-go

Musically, when we replace the words with notes, it could be expressed something like this:

G C D__E__ C

(to go)

G C D_E___ C

(t’ go)

Let’s return one last time to our familiar rhythm:

BOOM boom boom boom

What if, while clapping 4 even beats, we were to say it like this, holding the first boom for a total of 2 beats/claps?

BO00000000M boom boom

That is an example of a note held longer than a beat! How simple is that? As you can see, the possibilities are endless for creating rhythm!

Next time, we’ll examine the third component of rhythm: patterns of short and long notes within a piece.

Until then, the beat still goes on ...!

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