- Beats are the regular pulses that can be heard in almost all music:
- Music from all parts of the world has a regular beat;
- Music from very earliest times had a regular beat;
- Music of all "popular" kinds almost invariably has a regular beat.
- There is obviously something deeply psychological about the human liking for a regular beat:
- This may come from the regular heart and pulse;
- It may be more deep-seated, from the rhythm of neuron-firing in the brain;
- Or it may be a walking, running and dancing rhythm that makes us feel good.
- A collection of regular beats is the beginning of the formation of a rhythm.
- Click to hear a rhythm - what do you hear?
- A very short sound that is repeated at regular intervals of time;
- But there are two sounds, one low click, and one high bell sound - can you hear each?
- The bell sound only occurs every four beats, and it gives the feeling that every fourth beat is a stronger pulse than the other three, even though the bell is not a loud sound.
- Here's how this rhythm might be notated on a stave in music:
The open circles along the top represent the "bell" sound, and the black notes with tails in the bottom row represent the more frequent low click.
- Time is represented horizontally along the stave from left to right.
- Listen again and follow the time-line.
- Now try counting the four beats in each bar counting "1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4;"
- You will have to count evenly and quite quickly, but you need to get used to doing this.
- Count out loud to start with, but also try counting "in your head" to yourself - this is necessary in sight-singing.
- Count while playing the rhythm at first, then try it without playing it.
- Try clapping whenever you say "1" - that is when the bell sounds, and is the strongest beat of each bar.
- Notice that a vertical line is across the stave immediately before each strong beat (where the bell sound is):
- These are called bar lines;
- The main purpose of a bar line is to indicate that a strong beat comes after it;
- Bar lines divide music into equal length time chunks, so each bar or measure contains the same number of beats;
- The chunk between two bar lines is called a bar (or in the US, a measure);
- A bar or measure starts at one bar line and finishes at the next;
- Similarly, a beat starts where the note head is placed, and finishes where the next note head is placed.
- When you are happy doing the exercises above with four beats in each bar, try all the same things with the one below that has only three beats in each bar:
- For this one, you should count "1, 2, 3; 1, 2, 3;" etc. and clap on each number "1";
- The counting should be evenly spaced, there should be no gap after "3";
- Three-in-a-bar is a waltz rhythm, whereas 2 or 4 in a bar is a marching rhythm.
- The written note lengths don't add up in this example, but we'll sort that out later.
- You can practise counting to almost any music you hear: on the radio, television, on a tape, CD, video or whatever, in the supermarket, etc.
- Almost all music has a regular beat, and a huge proportion of popular and classical music is a simple 3 or 4 beats per bar.
- Practise counting along with it, making sure you get the "1" on the strong beat:
- The first note of a piece of music is not always the first beat of a bar.
- Try continuing counting even after the music has finished.
- You can do this "in your head" - you don't have to do it out loud!
- Beware - there is some music that is not a simple 3 or 4 beats in a bar:
- There are some jazz and classical pieces that have 5, 7 or irregular numbers of beats on a bar;
- Music sometimes does change the number of beats in each bar quite suddenly;
- Music does change its speed sometimes.
- This is excellent practice for sight-singing - one of the absolute pre-requisites is to be able to count reliably, and almost unconsciously.
- As a test of how reliably you can count, try these two exercises.
- Click on the two midi files below in turn, the fast one first. The slow one is much more difficult.
- Count up to four (and clap as well if you want to) with the first two bars, and then keep counting (and clapping) through the two bars of silence and see if you are still in time when the rhythm returns for another two bars.
For more details on beats, see Basic Music Theory - beats
For more details on bars, see Basic Music Theory - bars or measure
If you have any questions or comments, please email me