Let’s Master Rhythm! Beat and Meter in Music

What is musical rhythm?

The word rhythm comes from the Greek word “rhythmos”, meaning measured motion. Basically, rhythm refers to the arrangement of sounds that move through time.

It can be found everywhere, not just in music. Walking, jogging, talking, and all sorts of things we do and experience have rhythm. In fact, your heartbeat may be the best illustration of musical rhythm. Try to find your pulse either on your neck or your wrist. You should feel the slight pumping motion repeated steadily—yeah, you have understood the foundation of rhythm—beat.

Beat—the steady and repeating pulse in music

While heartbeat is the steady and repeating pulse of our body, beat is the pulse in music. When you count 1, 2, 3, 4 in 4/4 time, you are actually counting the beat.

Normally we take the value of BPM as the measurement of the heart rate. The same goes for tempo—the speed of the beat.

BPM stands for Beats Per Minute. Below is the example of 120 BPM, which means two beats (two quarter notes) for every second.

Listen to the following metronome click track to figure out how fast (or slow) it is.

Apart from 120 BPM, there are plenty of different BPM ranges. In order to keep time when practicing, musicians use metronomes, devices that produces a consistent beat at a specific tempo. This is an essential part of every musician’s development. So if you don’t have a metronome, click here>> PlayZmith Beat to grab a free one.

Meter—the pattern of strong and weak beats

Not only are beats different in duration, but also in emphasis. Beats can be divided into strong (stressed) and weak (unstressed) beats, then be grouped into repeating sequences, becoming meters.

The three most basic meters are duple, triple and quadruple. In duple meter, there will be one strong beat (represented by S) followed by a weaker beat (represented by W). In triple meter, there will be a strong beat followed by two weaker beats. In quadruple meter, there will be a strong beat followed by three weaker beats, though the third beat (represented by s) in the group is typically stronger than the second and fourth beats.

The following table tries to sum up the patterns of strong and weak beats in various meters.

Backbeat—an upside-down rhythm

What about switching the positions of strong beats and weak beats? Why not?

When it comes to Rock, Jazz, Blues, Funk and Metal music, backbeat rhythm is often applied. By accentuating the upbeats—the second and fourth beats in 4/4 time (refer to the blue dots at the diagram below), the resulting swing feel will build a sense of rhythmic fluency.

Check out our free online metronome>> PlayZmith Beat to get hands-on experience of handling dynamic meters, beats and tempos. Although the application is now under development, we are hoping to make it better together with you. Please support us and send us your feedback, thank you.

In the next article, we will be discussing simple and compound time signatures. Stay tuned!


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