4 – Western Music Systems – Pulse, beat, metre, rhythm and tempo

4Western Music Systems – Pulse, beat, metre, rhythm and tempo

(No one seems to agree on the definitions of these terms. I am presenting them here as I understand them.)

Pulse is the internal timer of music. It is the basic unit of time. It is constant and does not normally change. It runs in the background of every song. Pulse is what you tap your foot to while listening to a song. Like the pulse you feel on your wrist, the pulse of a song is always there. There is neither a beginning nor an end! Pulse is what the bass drum is beat to. Pulses are measured in units called beats per minute (the number of times the pulse ticks in a minute)

Beats is a way of rendering the pulse so that it can be used to space and time the music. That is, beats organising pulses into recognizable and measurable groups, by accenting some and leaving the others unaccented. This pattern of accented and unaccented pulses creates the metre of the song (like the metre of a line of verse is seen as the group of accented and unaccented syllables). Beats are pulses organised into metres. Beats are normally indicated and played by the other (than bass) drums.

Beats are normally organised into units called measures (indicated in the music sheet by bars). Each measure has a certain number of beats in it, one or two of them accented. 

Notes of a song are played to the beat. The rhythm of a song can be thought of as how you use the beat to play the notes. Let us say that there are four beats in a measure. A note that you sound can take one beat (say a quarter note or rest), two beats (half note or rest) or the whole four beats (full note or rest). This use of the beat to space your notes in different ways through the song creates the rhythm of the song. Drummers also use various patterns of drumming to the beats to accentuate the rhythm.

Tempo is the speed of a song. The higher the beats per minute, the faster the tempo.

There are other concepts like groove, which is a feeling of rhythm you get when listening to rock, jazz etc. It is hard to explain, other than saying that it is a sense of rhythmic patterning that makes you want to dance to the song.

Visit the following pages for notes on particular elements of music.

2 – Western Music Systems – Notes

3 – Western Music Systems – Scales

4 – Western Music Systems – Pulse, beat, metre, rhythm and tempo

5 – Western Music Systems – How scales are used to compose music (Melody and Harmony)

6 – Western Music Systems – An example of a piece of music

7 – Indian Music Systems – Notes

8 – Indian Music Systems – Scales

9 – Indian Music Systems – Ragas

10 – Indian Music Systems – Harmony

11 – Indian Music Systems – Tala

12 – Indian Music Systems – Decorative Elements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s