There are two slightly different meanings of the word "beat" in music,
but the second is essentially a special case of the first:
- Beat is the most fundamental concept of
- A beat is a pulse that occurs at regular intervals,
i.e. with equal time intervals between the pulses,
which is heard (and often felt) by humans.
- A regular beat can have an emotional effect on a person:
for example, it can be exciting, relaxing or irritating.
- There are probably many reasons why our brains "tune in"
to a regular pulse:
- Our heartbeat is (normally) regular
- When we walk or run, our feet land in a regular
rhythm (in order to maintain balance)
- To be able to judge time properly, we have to be
able to accurately subdivide it, e.g. count seconds
- These regular intervals could be any perceptible interval,
but experience shows that useful pulse speeds are those
which can be counted and felt, which are
similar to the speed of walking, or the speed of a
heartbeat, i.e. between around 40 a minute and 200
a minute (over 3 per second).
- In general, a slow beat will be about 70 or less, which can
be compared to a leisurely walking speed or a heartbeat in
relaxation; a fast beat will be from 120 upwards, which can
be compared to a fast walk or run or a fast-beating heart;
generally speaking, a slow beat is relaxing and a fast beat
- The beat may have a definite
frequency or pitch, or it may not.
- Even if a beat is regular, it may not be exactly the
same each beat each time:
- the volume may change in some pattern
- the pitch may change in some pattern
- the tone may change in some pattern
- any combination of any of the above may change
- When a beat is combined with patterns of accents, and
other patterns of changes in pitch, volume etc., then
you have the beginnings of
- Within the context of a piece of music, the word
beat has a special meaning. It is the consistent pulse
of the music, as in the previous meaning (above), but the special meaning also includes
the duration of the beat and the way the beats are grouped.
- The note length of the beat
is specified by the
- The time signature also specifies how
many of these beats there are in a bar.
- The speed of this beat is specified by any
direction words and/or
- The first beat in each bar is generally felt as stronger than the
other beats in the bar. This might be literally by a stronger beat
perhaps by a drum, or it might be implied by the harmonic or melodic
shape of the music. Within a bar of four or more beats, there will
almost certainly be a sub-division, which means that another beat in
the bar will be felt as being stronger than the others, but not as
strong as the first. This pattern of strong, less strong and weaker
beats is normally governed by the time signature.
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