Rhythm primer (part 1): hearing the beat pt1

Welcome to the first lesson of the rhythm primer. This primer will take you from knowing nothing about rhythm to understanding how to hear and read the basics. Today we're going to learn how to hear the beat in music.

Rhythm is one of the most important aspects of a song. It is one of the things that makes country sound country and heavy metal sound like heavy metal. To hear how much just changing the rhythm to a melody can effect a song listen to the following clip: It will play a short melody once and then play the exact same melody but just change the rhythm. The individual pitches will be the same, some will just be held longer or shorter.

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Song: Rhythm Example
Description: Hearing the difference in melodies when only the rhythm is changed.

I bet you didn't recognize the first melody with the odd rhythm, but then I'm sure you recognized it the second time. Unfortunately, artists too often overlook the importance of rhythm when writing their songs . Have you ever heard a CD where almost every song sounds the same, but couldn't say exactly why? There's a good chance that the rhythm and speed of the songs are very similar. So now you´ve had a taste of how rhythm can change the feel of a song, let's start learning about the beat of a song.

I'm sure you've heard a song that has made you want to get up and move or clap along. That basic pulse that you feel is called the beat. In most songs, the beat stays steady from start to finish without speeding up or slowing down. There are parts of the song that may sound more energetic and have more notes, but the basic pulse happening underneath those notes stays the same. For each individual beat you could play one note or many notes. It doesn't matter as long as the pulse remains the same. If you have ever heard a musician call out "One! Two! Three! Four!" or a drummer clicking their sticks before the beginning of a song, you've heard them calling out the beat. They do that so the band can start the song together and play at the same speed. Listen to the following song, where I count the basic rhythm out for you. Each time I say a number it is a single beat, even though I'm counting to four. Each group of four beats is called a measure, but we'll cover that in the next lesson. For now, just notice how steady the beats I call out are.

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Song: When You Were Young
Artists: The Killers
Album: Sam's Town
Buy this song on Amazon or Buy it on iTunes.

Did you notice that even though the "1,2,3,4" I was calling out was steady, there were some notes of the melody that were shorter or longer? Listen again and listen to how long the words "you" and "young" are compared to the words "when" and "were" are.

Some songs sound faster or slower than others. How fast the beats happen is called the tempo. Listen to this next clip and hear how much slower the beat is compared to "When You Were Young."

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Song: God Of Wine
Artists: Third Eye Blind
Album: Third Eye Blind
Buy this song on Amazon or Buy it on iTunes.

Did you hear how much slower the tempo of "God of Wine" was? You can tell because of how different the speed of the counting was between the two songs. Tempo and rhythm work together to give a song its feel. But the two things are very different! Tempo is simply how fast the beats are happening. Rhythm is how long you hold each note for on top of that beat (like the different words we listened to in "When You Were Young"). Or a formal definition from the "Alfred' Essential Dictionary of Music": Rhythm is "The Organization of music in time using long and short note values." Think about the "ABC's" song. You could sing that song regular speed or you could sing it really fast. Either way you sang it the letters, A,B,C and D are each slower than L, M, N and O are. How long the L is compared to the A is- that's rhythm. Rhythm has to do with how many notes you play in each beat. Tempo has to do with how fast those beats are happening.

So now you're familiar with beats, rhythm, and tempo. If you're still a little confused it's okay. We'll cover it more in the next two lessons.

Click here to go to the next lesson: Finding the beat in your favorite songs.

Back to rhythm primer start page.

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