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Title: Location K-4 5-8 9-12 Description Discipline
Keeping Time SoundGarden
What is rhythm, meter, and tempo?

Rhythms happen all around us, from the tides, the sunrise and sunset, to our breathing and heartbeat. We spend the first nine months of our lives listening to our mothers' heartbeat. Tha-dump, tha-dump, tha-dump... Is it any wonder then that our heartbeat is considered the foundation of all musical rhythm?

Find the Beat!

What do you think are some of the main aspects of musical rhythm? Listen to the following examples:

Sound: (27") Basic Rock Beat.

Sound: (30") Hip Hop Beat.

Sound: (34") House Beat.

What is your definition of the beat? Write it down in your journal.

Try this:

Listen again to the excerpts above for the beat. Try to clap your hands on the beat. Try to play the beat on one of your musical instruments. When you're done, check your first definition and revise it if necessary.

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Find the Tempo!

What do you think are some of the main aspects to rhythm besides the beat? Listen to the following examples:

Sound: (20") Rock Beat.

Sound: (33") Shuffle Beat.

Sound: (51") Funk Beat.
What is your definition of tempo? Write it down in your journal.

Try this:

Listen to the above examples and clap your hands, snap your fingers (or whatever works for you) to find the beat. Now count how many beats there are in fifteen seconds (you can use the second hand on a watch or clock). Multiply the number by four. This gives you the number of beats per minute or the tempo!

Two of the most common way composers create a gradual change of tempo is with the accelerando and ritardando. These are Italian words, that mean, gradually speed up (accelerate) and gradually slow down deaccelerate).

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Hands-On Activity Listen to your Heart Beat


Materials needed:

  • two small plastic funnels
  • one balloon
  • one peice of rubber tubing, approximately four feet long
  • small rubber bands
  • safety scissors

To Do:

  1. Use your safety scissors to carefully cut out a piece of balloon big enough to cover the front of one of the funnels.
  2. Stretch the balloon across the front of a funnel and secure it with a rubber band.
  3. Insert each funnel into one end of the rubber tubing.
  4. Find a very quiet place (because extra noise can dampen the sound).
  5. When it's nice and quiet, place the covered end over your heart. Yout heart's located on the middle left side of your chest.
  6. Place the open funnel over your ear (the better you seal your ear the louder the sound will be).
  7. If you want to speed up the tempo of your heart, try walking up and down the steps once or twice.
  8. Is the tempo faster now?
  9. Is your heartbeat louder now?
  10. Write your findings in your journal.

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What's the Point?

We live in a world of time and duration. Since music takes time to unfold, we measure it and divide it in many different ways! So when we measure rhythm we use the term meter.

Meter is the underlying beat pattern. In its simplest form it will appear as a two (duple meter) or a three (triple meter). You can combine twos and threes to create more complex meters. For example, you can create a four by adding two plus two, or a five by adding two plus three.

Meter Example

What is meter?

Musicians use a meter signature to show what the meter is at the beginning of a composition. For example, let's explore the meter of Common Time, shown as a large C on each musical staff.

There are two basic items in a meter signature.

  1. The number of beats per measure. In this case that's four beats.
  2. The the unit of time that gets the beat. In this case a quarter note will get the beat (that's one with a black head and a single straight stem).

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Just for Fun!

1. What happens to the feeling of the rhythm when you speed up or slow down the tempo?

Sound: (30") Hip Hop Beat, 165 beats/minute.

Sound: (24") Hip Hop Beat, faster at 204 beats/minute.

Sound: (40") Hip Hop Beat, slower at 126 beats/minute.

Extra credit:

2. Create a rhythm on one of your instruments. Try and show the following ideas:

  1. the beat
  2. the tempo (can you go faster and slower?)
  3. the meter (how many beats per measure?)

3. Gently press the small flap shut on each of your ears. Can you hear the blood flowing inside your ears? Can you hear your heartbeat? What else can you hear?

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"Rhythm is one of the principal translators
between dream and reality.
Rhythm might be described as, to the world of sound,
what light is to the world of sight.
It shapes and gives new meaning."

Edith Sitwell

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