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Types of Rhythm

Small-scale rhythm, large-scale rhythm, medium-scale rhythm. What do these things mean?


Essentially, it’s a matter of perception. How does the listener perceive the sounds that are coming at them? How does the composer control the sound in order to control those perceptions?


Small-scale rhythm

Small-scale rhythm is what most people think when they hear the word “rhythm.” It’s what you’re most aware of when you hear music. More than pitch or harmony, you hear and retain small-scale rhythm.


Here’s an example.



This kind of thing can be repeated over and over to create a type of hook.


Medium-scale rhythm

Medium-scale rhythm refers to where the stress is placed in each bar. Over the course of a phrase of music (say 3 bars), a listener will be aware of accents in each bar that add up to a coherent rhythm.


So take the rhythm above and add accents, and you might get this:

medium-scale rhythm


As a listener you notice those accents and unconsciously form a background rhythm superimposed on the small-scale rhythm.


Large-scale rhythm

Large-scale rhythm is more abstract. It’s usually communicated in musical events that stand out from those around it. These don’t occur that often, but a listener notices them.


They could be the entry of a new instrument, or a chord that’s louder than all the ones around it. It could be a change of rhythm. These types of events act as mile-stones.


Thinking about what the musical milestones are in both songs and instrumental pieces gives you something to move toward when you’re writing. It also makes the whole thing more coherent for the listener.


These large-scale things often occur intuitively as you’re writing, and it’s easy to miss them. Stay aware, and you’ll have material to build the whole piece around.



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