Rhythm – the temporal (having to do with time) element of music relating to how sounds are made into patterns from Latin rhythmos from Greek rhythmos related to rhein meaning to flow (move in a steady unbroken manner)

Rhythm is quite a fascinating subject. At first glance, it can seem a bit elusive, similar to the subject of time. It is, however, quite manageable with a lot of practice.

First of all, I don’t think that some people have rhythm and some people don’t. I think good rhythmic skills can be learned by just about anyone, given enough practice of the right things.

A good place to start is to define some of the fundamental terms.  How to practice them is covered in my books.

Rhythm – when, and for how long, sounds are played based on various agreed upon units of measurement (beats, bars, subbeats)

Beat – the basic pulse of music that used as a stable point of reference and should be co-created by all the musicians

Time – a flow of beats

Tempo – the speed of the beats, often stated in B.P.M. (beats per minute)

Free time – Rubato, not in a steady tempo, speeding up and slowing down on purpose, often used for introductions and ending, however, a whole song could be played this way

Bar, Measure – a group of beats, the most common is 4 beats in a bar

Meter – the number of beats in a bar. When you say a song is in a triple meter for example, that means all the bars in that song will have 3 beats

Time Signature – the number of beats in a bar (meter) and which kind of note will represent 1 beat in the song

Downbeat – the first beat in a bar (also, the third beat is sometimes called a downbeat in quadruple meter – four beats per bar )

Upbeats, Offbeats – beats 2 & 4 (in a bar of 4 beats), beats 2 & 3 (in a bar of 3 beats)

Backbeat – beats 2 & 4 are often called backbeats, especially when they are accented (played loud, with extra stress)

Subbeat – a portion of a beat; beats are often divided into smaller beats, the most common divisions are 2, 3, 4 per beat – commonly referred to by their notational names: eighth notes, triplets, sixteenth notes

Rhythmic feel – the ‘feel’ of a song is caused by how the beats are divided; this is not the style of music, but how the song feels


Developing a high degree of rhythmic ability is essential to any musician and well worth the effort!

One Response to “An Overview of Rhythm”

  1. Zakeeyaw says:

    Thank you. Your explainations were clear and concise.

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