Music is "spirit, but spirit subject to the measurement of time," wrote the German poet Heinrich Heine. "I got rhythm," wrote George and Ira Gershwin a century later. They were talking about the same thing.
Rhythm is the way music is organized and measured in time. It is the structuring of music according to sounds and silences of varying duration, and the forming of measured sounds and silences into patterns. The patterns fit in a framework of beats, subdivisions of beats, and groups of beats. We think of music as something that moves. Rhythm is what makes it move; it is the carriage on which music rides through time. And the patterns and combinations of rhythm determine
In musical notation, the different durational values of sounds and silences are indicated by the various kinds of notes and rests whole notes and whole rests, half notes and half rests, quarter notes and quarter rests, eighth notes and eighth rests, and so on. These notes, or note values, can be combined and connected to create an infinite variety of rhythms and rhythmic patterns. Differences in
Meter is not the same thing as rhythm, although it falls into rhythm's domain.
"The body is a rhythm machine," in the words of Mickey Hart, drummer of the rock group the Grateful Dead. We breathe in a rhythm, and our hearts beat in a rhythm. Every physical movement, conscious or unconscious, creates a rhythm, implies a rhythm, or is governed by a rhythm. It comes as no surprise, then, that rhythm is an essential element of all music. There can be rhythm without melody think of a drumbeat but no melody without rhythm, without some notes lasting longer than others. Harmony, too, always has a rhythmic component:
|The NPR® Classical Music Companion: Terms and Concepts from A to Z by Miles Hoffman, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. Copyright © 1997 by Miles Hoffman and National Public Radio. All rights reserved.|