Our music theory focus today is on rhythm. What is rhythm? Rhythm is a very important part of the structure of music, or how music is organized. It gives us patterns of sounds and silences in our music. Rhythm notation provides the tools to put the organization of sounds and silences on paper. We talked about some basics of rhythm notation last week. If you missed it you can check out that post here: http://carolr3.sg-host.com/music-notation-basics/


Remember, measures divide our music into smaller segments. Each measure can only hold a specified amount of music. The time signature determines how much music one measure can hold. Let’s compare that to baking. If you make cookies the recipe doesn’t just tell you to put in flour and sugar. It tells you how much flour and sugar to use. The recipe tells you to measure out a certain amount of the flour or sugar to make your cookies turn out just right. Our time signature does the same thing for our measures of music.

Time Signatures

A time signature has two numbers. The top number determines how many beats of music or silence allowed in one measure. The bottom number tells us what kind of note gets one beat. The most common time signatures have a 4 as their bottom numbers. Think of fractions here – the 4 tells us that a quarter note (1/4) gets one beat. So, if the time signature is 4/4 then we can fit 4 quarter notes’ worth of music in each measure. If the time signature is 3/4 then we can only fit 3 quarter notes’ worth of music in the measure.

Rhythm Notation

We have many ways to write 4 quarter notes’ worth of music. We can use one whole note, or two half notes, a combination of two quarter notes and one half note. If we want to make or rhythm more complex we can add eighth notes and sixteenth notes to our combinations. And if we don’t want sound on every beat we can use rests to substitute for sounds. We can write an entire measure of rests or we can write some notes and some rests. We can use any combination of notes and rests we like, as long as their total values don’t exceed the amount allowed in the measure.

Look at the following graphics. These will help you remember note values and their comparable rest values.

Rhythm Note Values GraphicRhythm Rest Values




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