CHAPTER 5: RHYTHM
Dr. N. Boumpani and Dr. J. Carteret
NOTE: there may seem to be a large number of musical works in this chapter; however, for the majority of them, you need only listen to a minute of each.
The three essential aspects of music are melody, harmony, and rhythm. The last two chapters covered melody and harmony; this one will cover rhythm. As we have seen, a melody can exist without harmony. If we think about movie music, at times there is no melody and only harmony. This is especially true in situations where the actors are speaking and a melody might tend to get in the way of the dialogue. Although we can have music without melody and we can have music without harmony, we really can’t have music without rhythm. Music takes place in time. The most basic definition of rhythm can be “the placement of sounds in time.” This is the simplest definition, but rhythm is sometimes hard to explain, so we will understand it better by examining the various aspects of rhythm.
This term can have several meanings. For example, when listening to hip-hop, the beat can be defined as a repeated drum pattern. There are many young people who have experimented with sequencer programs like Garage Band and created their own hip-hop music “beats.” Often those attempting this will download what are called “drum loops.” Drum “loops” are short recordings of a drum pattern that can be used in a sequencer to repeat over and over to create the drum track for a hip-hop song. Below is a drum loop that could be used for a hip-hop song.
EXAMPLE: hip-hop beat
When we talk about the beat as part of the elements of rhythm, we are not always talking about the drums. It is true that in all kinds of music, drums are used to emphasize the beats, but drums are not used in all music, and yet the beat is still present. A simple definition of “beat” is the pulse of the music. The beat is usually a steady repeating pulse, much like our own heartbeats. Sometimes we hear the beat when certain instruments accent it, but sometimes we can only feel the beat. When we tap our feet to a song, or clap hands, or dance we are doing so based on the beat. However, not all music has a steady beat. A composer can write a section of music and mark it rubato. Rubato means that the performer is free to sing or play the music without a steady beat. There is still rhythm because the music is moving along through time, but we can’t feel a steady beat. When you listened to the first monophonic section of Whitney Huston’s I Will Always Love You, you were listening to a rubato performance. When the harmony came in with the second section, there was a steady beat. Go back and listen to that work again.
Most music has a steady beat. Without a steady beat, people would not be able to dance and orchestras, bands, choruses, etc., would have a difficult time performing together. Below is a list with a few examples of music with steady pulse. You do not have to listen to all of each piece, but please listen to at least a minute of each. There will be no listening guides for these because we are only listening for the steady pulse.
EXAMPLE: RENAISSANCE ERA: Estampie (anonymous) For the first 1:20, there is only one melody with drums. This is still an example of monophonic texture.
EXAMPLE: BAROQUE ERA: Allegro I from A Celebrated Concerto Roseingrave, Thomas
EXAMPLE: CLASSICAL ERA: Serenade No. 13 in G K. 525 Eine Kleine Nachtmusik W. A.Mozart
The tempo of a piece of music is based on the speed of the beats. The faster the beats go by, the faster the tempo. Tempi (plural of tempo) are measured in beats-per-minute and often use Italian terms to indicate speed. Before the invention of a device that could give us an exact number of beats per minute (called a metronome), composers used these terms to get an idea of tempo. Here are just a few of these terms (all of these are between 23 seconds and 90 seconds):
Presto – very fast EXAMPLE: Late for Work N. Boumpani
Allegro –fast EXAMPLE: Here Comes the Champ N. Boumpani
Moderato –medium EXAMPLE: Up and Down we Go N. Boumpani
Andante –“walking” EXAMPLE: Bad New Blues N. Boumpani
Adagio – slow EXAMPLE: How Can It Be? N. Boumpani
There are many more such terms, but this is just a sampling. There are also terms that are used to modify the above terms like “molto presto” which would mean that the musician would play the music a little faster than just “presto.” This can be confusing to non-musicians and seem very arbitrary; however, over time, musicians learn to estimate these terms in a very precise manner.
The invention of the metronome by Johann Maelzel in 1815 gave composers a way of telling performers the exact tempo at which to perform the composer’s music. The metronome creates a specific number of clicks per minute. The composer then indicates this by including a marking at the beginning of each work of music telling the performers which note gets one beat and how many of beats will occur per minute. Here is an example of such a marking:
The above metronome marking tells the musician that there will be 96 beats per minute, based on the quarter note getting one beat (more about this later).
Give your instructor a few examples of music you listen to on a daily basis and compare them to each other. Are some faster than others? Try to find songs that have different tempos. As we go through this course, we will hear music that sometimes changes the tempo as the music progresses. This will be examined in future chapters.
Below is a list of musical pieces at different tempi. Please listen to at least a minute of each work.
EXAMPLES OF TEMPI IN MUSIC
EXAMPLE: ADAGIO: Fantasia on Greensleeves, R. Vaughn Williams
EXAMPLE ANDANTE: “Morning Mood” from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 Op.46 E. Greig
EXAMPLE ALLEGRO: “Hornpipe” from Water Music Suite No. 1 in F Major HWV 348
EXAMPLE PRESTO: Molly on the Shore P. Grainger
EXAMPLE MOLTO VIVACE (very fast): “Trepak” from the Nutcracker Suite Op. 71a P. Tchaikovsky
THE RENAISSANCE – BIRTH OF STANDARDIZED RHYTHMIC NOTATION AN INTRODUCTION
In previous chapters we introduced the music of the Middle Ages. When we discuss the Middle Ages, we will find that life was very difficult for most of the people living at the time. The Catholic Church’s control of much of life slowed the rate at which change was possible. Eventually, change would begin to bring Western society to a time of “rebirth.” During the time of the Renaissance, composers like Leonin and Perotin developed a way to notate rhythm.
The term “renaissance” means “rebirth.” After almost 1000 years of the Middle Ages, there were many changes in western society that began to help people live more freely. At the time there was a growing middle class of merchants and businessmen and, once again, education was becoming available to people outside the clergy. People of the Renaissance sought ancient treasures from the time of Greece and Rome, but this treasure was not gold and silver, the treasure was knowledge. So much had been lost when Rome fell. Even the great architecture of Rome had not been matched in almost 1000 years because the formula for creating concrete has been lost. We will discuss the Renaissance further in its own chapter.
We have discussed two aspect of rhythm in music: the beat and tempo. The beat is the regular pulse that we feel. Tempo is the speed at which beats occur in a piece of music based on beats per minute. There is one more important component to rhythm, and that is meter. When listening to music, especially music with a pronounced beat, you can begin to feel that some beats seem more important than others and that there seems to be reoccurring patterns of strong and weak beats. Much of popular music, especially when used for dancing, is written in groupings of 4 beats, where the first beat is the most important and recognizable. We call this the "strong" beat. Strong does not mean that it has to be louder in volume; it simply means that because this is the first beat in a group, we feel or sense it as the beginning. Most of the time we don't think about this, but we do react to it. Listen to your favorite music and see if you can "feel" this grouping. Music that demonstrates this 4-beat grouping with the first group being the strongest is said to be in quadruple meter. Below are two examples of music with groupings of 4 beats. Remember, you need only listen to about a minute of each of these works. The idea is to get the idea of the various meters in your ears.
EXAMPLE QUADRUPLE METER: Symphonic Prelude on Adeste Fidelis C. T. Smith
Sometimes the beats are grouped into regular repetitions of sets of three beats. When this happens, the first beat is "stronger" than the other two that follow. As we examine music of the Baroque and Classical eras, we will hear music in this type of meter. These are often called "minuets" (min-Uetts) or sometimes called "waltzes." When music is written to this reoccurring group of three beats, we call it triple meter. Listen to the following example of this meter:
EXAMPLE: My Country Tis of Thee (America)
Sometimes music is written in groupings of two beats where the first beat is strong and the second is weak. When we hear marches, like the Army, Navy, Marine or Air Force song, or many college fight songs, we are hearing music that falls into this pattern. When music is written in groups of two beats, it is called duple meter. Listen to the following example:
EXAMPLE: The Stars and Stripes Forever J. P. Sousa METER, therefore, can be defined as the regular, reoccurring patterns of strong and weak beats
that help organize music.
Sometimes composers write music in odd meters. There are several notable examples of music written in groupings of 5 beats per measure. Many times, the sets of 5 are divided into sets of 2 + 3, or 3+2. A good example of a well-known movie theme in the grouping of 3+2 is the theme from the television show and movies, Mission Impossible. Here are a couple examples of music written in sets of 5 beats that you might recognize or find interesting.
EXAMPLE: “I. Mars, the Bringer of War” from The Planets, Op. 32 G Holst
EXAMPLE: Take Five, D. Brubeck, from the Motion Picture The Mighty Aphrodite.
NOTES AND RESTS
Knowing rhythmic values is not important in developing an appreciation of music; however, sometimes it helps to understand a little about the language that musicians must understand in order to make music. We already discussed the use of foreign language terms that have been used to indicate how fast or slow a piece of music is to be performed. Besides the actual notes and rests discussed below, there are many more terms and symbols that composers write in their music to help performers interpret the music as the composer intended. We will discuss some of these later.
Music is written on a series of 5 lines and 4 spaces called a staff. When a performer is to produce or play a certain pitch, there is a note placed on the music staff that indicates both the pitch and the length of time that pitch is to be held. A rest is a symbol that tells the performer when not to play and for how long that silence must last. When we discuss the length of time a pitch is to be performed, we are discussing the rhythmic aspect of the sound.
Notes and rests are symbols that are placed on the music paper. When you listen to music, notice how many different pitches are performed and also how there are some pitches held out longer than others while some pitches tend to "zip" by. Below is a short line of music that might be played on a trumpet. Notice how different the notes look. Even notes that are one the same line or space have different symbols attached to them.
At this point, you may have noticed the use of the terms "note" and "pitch." Even trained musicians sometimes use these terms incorrectly. A "note" is what is printed on the music paper; it represents a sound and tells the performer what sound to play and how long to hold it. A "pitch" is what is produced by the performer and what our ears hear. We see a note, but we hear a pitch.
This course will not expect students to understand all of the intricacies of reading music. What is important is that when you hear a person performing, that individual has taken a lot of time to learn the language of music in order to play the correct pitches for the correct length of time, at the proper tempo, with regard for the beat and the meter. There is more we will discuss shortly; however, the next time you hear a person performing, even if that person is not a great performer and you hear some mistakes, try to appreciate all that person has done to be able to perform.
Some of you may have played an instrument, or taken piano lessons or performed in a choir. If you learned how to read music, you may have found that you were able to sing or play new music easily. If you were not taught to actually read the music, but learned because you watched someone else play it, or heard the director sing it to you, and you would reproduce the sound, you would have found that you were not able to easily play new music. This was because you did not learn to read music. This sometimes happens when a student does not practice the instrument on a regular basis, or the director does not stress the importance of learning to read music. This kind of instruction is called “rote” instruction and limits how much a student can do. Rote learning is never something that helps a student reach his or her potential. It does, however, make it easier for music directors to put on presentations to parents and administrators.
CLARIFICATION: Note values and tempo: When listening to music, do not confuse tempo with note values. In the following very short example, the tempo never changes, but the note values change. Many people mistake the speed at which pitches are played with a change in tempo. As you listen to this, you will hear the beat never changes, as played by the drum:
EXAMPLE: The Beat Goes On N. Boumpani
Since music takes place in time, and rhythm has to do with the duration of sounds, all music has rhythmic elements, even when we can’t feel a beat. The speed at which the beats occur is called the tempo. There are many different tempi used in music. Beats are grouped together in groups of strong and weak beats, the most common are groups of 2 (duple), 3 (triple) and 4 (quadruple) groups. The grouping of beats together is called meter.
Rhythmic notation was developed during the Renaissance Era by Leonin and Perotin. Today music is notated on 5 lines and 4 spaces using notes and rests.