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Reading Rhythm in Music, Part II

Updated on May 29, 2011

Distinguishing True Beat from Melodic Beat


To begin this part, let me recap one idea from the previous article: within music, there is an underlying, consistent beat (“True Beat”) that continues in a steady pattern, as well as a melodic beat that matches the notes of the melody or tune. It is extremely helpful to be able to hear both at the same time. Here are two simple exercises to help you notice the difference.

1) Some Wizardry

Tap your feet in a somewhat slow, steady and even pattern like this (imitate the steadiness of a steady heartbeat or pendulum clock):

TAP            TAP            TAP            TAP            (repeat without pause)

That is the underlying, steady beat. Now, continue this tapping and at the same time chant the following words from The Wizard of Oz, matching syllables with the TAPs directly below them:

Li- ons and ti- gers and bears, Oh MY!       (repeat without pause)

TAP            TAP             TAP           TAP        (repeat without pause)

Repeat this several times, making sure the bold-faced syllables occur with the foot-taps. The taps are the True Beat, and the chanted words are the melodic beat.


2) Royal Help

A slightly more complex, but I hope familiar, rhythmic chant is “We will rock you” by the band Queen, heard in many sports venues as a sort of spontaneous cheer. Think of the foot stomps and claps and the chant-song; then clap/stomp/play/say/sing as written below. Once again the “TAP” represents the underlying, steady beat. Three lines are grouped together: on top is the stomp/clap rhythm; the second line is the spoken/chanted text; the lowest line is the True Beat.


Stomp-stomp-CLAP-pause  Stomp-stomp-CLAP-pause |

We----------    will-----           We----------     will-----

TAP              TAP                TAP                TAP

Stomp-stomp-CLAP-pause  Stomp-stomp-CLAP-pause |

Rock   you! -------------------------------------------------

TAP               TAP               TAP                TAP

Stomp-stomp-CLAP-pause  Stomp-stomp-CLAP-pause |

We----------     will-----           We----------    will-----

TAP               TAP               TAP                TAP

Stomp-stomp-CLAP-pause  Stomp-stomp-CLAP-pause |

Rock   you! -------------------------------------------------

TAP               TAP               TAP                TAP

Often in today’s printed music for lessons, especially as it is written for younger or less experienced musicians, the basic underlying steady beat is represented by quarter notes and quarter rests (a quarter rest represents a beat of silence that lasts as long as a quarter note); but the basic beat can actually be represented by notes of any value. If we chose to represent the first half of the Queen chant with quarter notes, it would look like this:


As this series of Hubs continues, the quarter note will be used to represent one pulse of the steady beat. Until further notice, that is!


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