How to Write Music

This is our old "How to Write Music" course. It has been replaced by our new Pop Music Theory course.

13. Rhythm - The Beat


Lesson 13: Rhythm - The Beat

The two most fundamental properties of the notes in music are their pitches (how high or low they sound) and their rhythm (when they happen). Rhythm is arguably even more fundamental than pitch. You can have rhythm without pitches—drum music, rap vocals, or record scratching, for example—but it's hard to have pitches without rhythm.

Beats. The basic unit of time that we use to talk about rhythm is the beat. A beat is an amount of time that's comfortable for counting, and in fact beats are sometimes called "counts". The speed of the beats varies from song to song. In a very slow song, each beat might last a whole second; in a fast song, each beat might last just a half second, or even just a third of a second.

Tempo. The speed of the beats in a song is called the song's tempo. We usually measure the tempo by how many beats fit in a minute: beats per minute or BPM. 60 BPM is a quite slow tempo; 120 to 130 BPM is typical for disco music; and 160 BPM is a quite fast tempo, at least for pop/rock music. In sheet music you often see tempo marked as MM instead of BPM, for example "MM 100"; MM and BPM mean the same thing; MM stands for "Maelzel metronome".

In the box below is a metronome, a device which ticks off beats at the tempo you set. Play with it to hear what beats at different tempos sound like.

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Tempo: BPM

So, now that you've been introduced to beats, go on to Hearing Rhythms on the Beat.

by Conrad Albrecht 2015. Questions, comments, ideas? Tell me on Facebook!

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