Rhythm and Meter

The Beat and Divisions of the Beat

A feeling of regular pulse, like a heartbeat, is an essential component of most traditional music.  Rhythmic note values are combined with pitches to create music.  The beat is a pattern of regular accents in music, and each meter has its own pattern.  The bar line is used to separate measures.  The tempo is the rate of speed at which accents occur. 

A time signature, or meter, is used to indicate the beat pattern and value of each pulse.  Each time signature has an upper and a lower digit.  The upper digit indicates the number of beats, and the lower digit indicates the value of each individual beat. 

A meter is referred to as simple if the beat is divided into two parts evenly, and it is compound if it is divisible by three.  A dot (.) to the right of a note adds half of its value.  The upper digit in the time signature is a dotted note in compound time.  The upper digit in compound time is always 3, or a multiple such as 6, 9, or 12.  Each example below shows several measures of a time signature with typical divisions of the beat.  The divisions of the beat are beamed together.  Beams generally do not extend across individual beats.  Refer to the chart on page 8 of the text for simple meter divisions.

In a Duple meter there are two strong beats.  In a Triple meter there are three, and in Quadruple time there are four beats.  In 4/4 time, a quadruple meter, there are four quarter notes per measure.  The primary accents are on beats 1 and 3.  These groupings can be beamed together, but rhythmic combinations and beams do not obscure beat 3.

Music Courseware Activities

Visitors – Select the Activity Written: Rhythm Matching

Students – Take a test or quiz assigned by your instructor.

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