What is Rhythm theory?
In this topic we will learn the theory that exists behind the musical rhythm. Besides rhythm being an element of great importance to any musician, the majority misses this study, because they think that rhythm is innate of human being: “those who are born with rhythm in veins don’t need to practice this, only those who face difficulties in this item”. Well, you have to know that this is completely misguided!
Any musician needs to study and practice rhythm, the same way that they need to practice any other technique, because the rhythm can be refined and developed.
The first tip for those who want to develop this field of rhythm is always playing with a metronome aside. Those who use a metronome while training technique are like having a military general aside saying: “do not quite the rhythm!”. This makes the musician develop not only precision, but also accentuation, an important factor to any instrumentalist.
Nice, but before reading the following in this topic, we recommend that you read the article “sheet music”, because we will use here some resources from it to represent the rhythms, specially the part that mentions bar lines.
Very well, we already learned in the article about sheet music what represents the 4/4 time: it fits 4 quarter notes in a bar line. Just to remember, see below how many figures fit in a bar line in the representations:
4/4 = it fits 4 quarter notes
4/2 = it fits 4 half notes
4/8 = it fits 4 eighths
2/4 = it fits 2 quarter notes
3/1 = it fits 3 whole notes
5/32 = it fits 5 sixty fourths
7/2 = it fits 7 half notes
As we commented before, 4/4 time is the most common in music. In this time, you can count, in the rhythm of a song, from 1 to 4, starting over again the count, without having mismatch with the melody.
See the example of the song Rolling in the Deep:
Starting in 00:23 of this song, when the bass drum enters marking the time: “boom”, “boom, “boom”, “boom”, you will count from 1 to 4 and start again, following the “boom” of the bass drum in this way:
Notice that there is a perfect match in this count with the melody; this means that this song is in the 4/4 time.
As the 4/4 time is the most used, the majority of the musicians feels uncomfortable when facing songs that are “broken” (that are not in 4/4 time).
For example, pay attention in the introduction of the song Dreaming Awake, from the Swedish band of Progressive Metal Harmony:
Once the song starts, we will start the count as we did in the previous song. This time the snare drum is the one that will help us to mark the time. Count (1, 2, 3, 4) in a way that the first beat in the snare drum be in the number 3, in other words, when the song starts, you start to count in a speed that the number 3 be in the first beat of the snare drum. This will be our speed of counting in this song. Count up to four and restart counting, the same way you did in the previous song.
Did you notice that the song doesn’t fit well in this count? The guitar is doing a repetitive riff, but this riff doesn’t fit well with our count, because when we arrive in number 4 and restart the count, the song is in a different point, “untidy”. This is happening because the introduction of this song is not in 4/4 time, but in 7/4.
But how can we find out that it is in 7/4 time? Well, repeat this same count that you were doing, in the same speed, but instead of counting just up to 4, count up to 7 and then restart. Did you see as it fits now? The guitar riff follows the count up to seven to the restart.
Observation: Our analysis of this song was focused just in the first part of the introduction, because actually, the whole introduction starts with 3 compounds in 7/4 time and then a compound in 8/4 time. This last one can also be seen as two 4/4 consecutives. In the same way, the firsts compounds we saw (7/4) can be seen as a sum of a 3/4 to a 4/4. We preferred to deal with this compounds as 7/4 and 8/4 to make a reference to our count and to be easier to follow.
And when the vocalist starts to sing, the time of the song goes to 4/4. Notice as this song doesn’t keep the same time, but switches between 7/4 and 4/4. This situation is not common in popular songs. This is why is interesting to take songs with complex timing to practice and loose the addiction of just being comfortable with songs in 4/4.
Let’s see one more example now in 3/4 time, the song “Ele é exaltado”:
Check the counting below, in the rhythm that follows the lyrics:
Very well, now that we learned how to identify this odd times, try to observe, as exercise, that the song Take Five, played by the quartet of Jazz Dave Brubeck, is in 5/4 time:
Other band which is worth to mention about this, in a way of having many songs with “broken time” is the Canadian band Rush, which was an influence to many of Rock/Metal segment by adding complex times in its compositions (as for example, the virtuous American band Dream Theater).
We will give continuation to this study in the topic “Setback”.
Go to: Rhythm exercises
Back to: Module 12