31: Time: Beats & Measures
Lesson 31: Time: Beats & MeasuresThis lesson teaches how we measure time in music, using beats and measures.
The basic unit of time that we "feel" in music is the beat. Here are some basic beat facts:
Each beat in a song (in most songs) lasts the same amount of time; that is, the beat is regular. In fact, the regular beat is what makes music "rhythmic". The beat is the basic property of music that makes you feel like clapping or dancing or moving with it.
Although each beat in a single song (in most songs) lasts the same amount of time, the speed of the beats can be very different from song to song. This is the difference between "fast" songs and "slow" songs.
How fast is a beat? The speed of the beats is very different in different songs; but some typical example beat speeds could be "the speed of a heartbeat", or "the speed of your steps walking or running", or "a speed that's comfortable to count". That last one is especially important; we often count beats, and if you're hearing a time-span in a song which is too fast or slow to count, then what you're hearing is probably not the "beat". In fact, because we often count beats, beats are sometime called counts.
Tempo. The speed of the beats in a particular song is that song's tempo. We measure tempo in beats per minute or BPM. Very roughly, the "common" range of tempos in pop music is from about 60 BPM (slow) to about 160 BPM (fast). One famous tempo is the "disco tempo", 120 BPM.
We often count the beats when we're trying to understand a song's use of time. Of course, we could just count beats from the beginning of the song, like this:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ...
But, in real songs, the beats are actually grouped into "chunks" which we call measures, and we count starting over with "beat 1" for each measure, like this:
| 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | ...
Here are some key facts about measures:
To understand beats and measures, you can't just read about them; you must "feel" them. Some people can do this "naturally", but other people need to learn and practice this. The best way to learn this is simple: Just count the beats (say "1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4 ...") while listening to real songs. You may need a musician to help you and tell you if you're "doing it right".
Next: When you understand and can "feel" beats and measures, then you're ready to start learning to read rhythms, in Lesson 32: Note Lengths.