Teaching Rhythm

Rhythm is the establishment of a regular distance in time. That which keeps the pulse regular is equi-distance between the beats (pulses). The establishment of regular distance allows for the formation of simple to complex rhythm patterns.

Rhythm and rhythm patterns are very different events. Rhythm patterns grow from the establishment of rhythm, a regular distance (beat/pulse). Walking is an excellent demonstration of rhythm in action.

Below is an illustration of rhythm in music notation.


The above illustration shows four crotchet beats separated by equal distance producing regularity.
The word ‘D00’ can be used for each crotchet to practise establishing regularity.
Here is a fundamental rhythm from which simple to complex rhythm patterns can be achieved.

Rhythm is spatial and rhythm patterns are obtained by numerical subdivision and/or augmentation of this regular distance (beat/pulse).
The following table is essential for the understanding of how rhythm patterns evolve from the fundamental rhythm.



4 Top figure – How many beats
4 Lower figure – What kind of heat

4 Indicates four quarters of a whole note in each bar.
4 Quarter = crotchet.

2 Indicates two half notes in each bar.
2 Half = minim.

6 Indicates six eighth notes in each bar.
8 Eighth = quaver.

3 Indicates three sixteenth notes in each bar.
16 Sixteenth note = semiquaver.

The note value represented by the lower figure of a time signature indicates the beat. That is the distance from which all sub—divisions and augmentations are derived.
Here are some examples of possible rhythm patterns taken from various time signatures.


To practice the rhythm patterns, use ‘DOO‘ for the distance (beat). Having established the distance, use ‘DOO’ to halve, quarter and eighth.


This routine will familiarise you with the rhythm patterns and allow you to mentally drive the rhythm. Remember to make sure you say the distance with ‘Doo’ before subdividing.
Confusion can arise owing to the different names given to the notes. In this country we say semibreve, minim, crotchet, quaver, semiquaver. Some other countries describe the notes as whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth. This article may assist you in deciding which names are more appropriate.
During the formative years of group instrumental playing, a staff was used to hit on the floor. The level of noise produced by this method of providing a regular beat was extremely intrusive. As orchestral style developed in the formation of orchestras, the conductor emerged, with a smaller staff called a baton.

The conductor’s regular beat gives every player the same distance to subdivide or augment. Given that each player completes their sub-division or augmentation accurately, everyone can finish at the same time, at the same place.
Without the establishment of a common regular beat (distance), rhythm patterns could not be completed with confidence or accuracy.
Rhythm is about regular distance, described as a beat or pulse. From this regular distance grow rhythm patterns. Whilst rhythm and rhythm patterns are totally dependent on one and another, they are in essence, quite‘ different.


The rhythmic style is determined by where the accented beat falls. As a general rule, after each bar line there will be an accented beat.


Barlines divide the music into small sections and mark where the strong accent occurs.


When the accented beat is disguised or rested, syncopation follows.


The strong accent that follows the bar line is displaced by the use of a tie, which demands that the notes be played without interruption. This tends to shift the accent onto the weak second beat of the bar.


The accent is now required on the third beat, which would otherwise be un—accented or weaker than the first beat.


The first bar is heavily syncopated by resting the beginning of the first accented beat. The fourth beat is tied over, disguising the first accented beat of the second bar. The minim on the second heat is disguising the medium accent of the third beat of the bar.
To reproduce what is on the page, say the part before the finger movements. Establish your beat (distance) with ‘Doo’, then using the distance selected for subdivision and augmentation, ‘say‘ before you ‘play’.

That is:  Say “restG   G   F   F   F   E   E   D”

When you can say the passage faultlessly, then transfer it to your fingers on the instrument. Do not forget to establish your distance with a ‘Doo’ before saying the phrase.


Music is built similarly to sentences. The commas, semi—colons and fullstops are called cadences; Imperfect, Interrupted, Plagal and Perfect; shaping the notes into musical phrases.
Cadences are chord progressions: the most familiar is probably the Perfect that equates to the full-stop. Interrupted and Imperfect cadences sound unfinished, and may equate to the commas and colons. Perhaps the second best known progression would be the Plagal cadence, which ends the majority of hymns — “A—men”.
Cadences generally indicate a place to pause, or in the case of wind playing, breathe. Phrases may also be made by means of melody or rhythm.

Using various combinations of rhythm patterns involving syncopation, accents and phrase, brings about a literacy in music notation.
All the various combinations of this musical literacy have a component of rhythm/ rhythm pattern. We have seen how a basic regular distance/pulse/beat can be extrapolated out to very complex rhythmic structures.

When you understand the origin of these complex rhythmic structures execution of them is not so confronting.
I trust this article will assist that understanding in future encounters.

John StGeorge 2000

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