Rhythm Practice: Beats Me!

Updated: February 14, 2018

Let's practice clapping some rhythms together!

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Beats Me! 

What is music? It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer! … hard to come up with a satisfactory definition. Here’s our best effort, taken from the ViolinSchool Glossary: 

  • Music – That which contains elements of pitch and/or rhythm and/or timbre, perceivable in some way, and in some way organised, or ‘framed’ … 

The vast vast majority of music will contain varieties of these three elements: Pitch, Rhythm, and Sound (timbre). And so, when you are practising the violin, you need to be super-duper-hyper aware of all three, developing and honing, developing and honing, then honing some more!  

In Beats Me!, we’re going to look at the fundamental units of rhythm, the units that you’ll find in pretty much every piece you will ever play.   

So, what is rhythm?! Again, let’s consult the ViolinSchool Glossary: 

  • Rhythm  The perceptible organisation of musical events in time. The long and short of it! … 

Sounds good. But, what is pulse? How is it different from rhythm? 

  • Pulse – the underlying ‘heartbeat’ of music, a regular and reoccurring emphasis, or beat … 

Once we’ve established the pulse, felt the beat, then rhythm can take place within and around it. It’s such a natural, human thing (and a parrot thing, too, it would seem … keen “headbangers” that they are!). When we ‘sense’ the pulse, or ‘feel’ the beat, it makes us react kinaesthetically: we tap our feet, we clap our hands, we nod our heads, we dance! The pulse of music can be super super fast, or super super slow, and everything in between … we call this the ‘tempo’: 

  • Tempo – The speed of the underlying beat, the pace at which the music is played. It is the ‘speedometer’ of music. 

The basic units of rhythm are as follows:  

American Terms --- Whole Note (4 beats); Half Note (2 beats); Quarter Note (1 beat); Eighth Note (½ beat); & Sixteenth Note (¼ of a beat)   

British Terms --- Semibreve (4 beats); Minim (2 beats); Crotchet (1 beat); Quaver (½ a beat); & Semiquaver (¼ of a beat)  


Now we’re clear on the definitions, let’s try clapping or tapping the rhythms in Beats Me!  

Make sure the pulse is really solid and consistent. Start with a slow tempo, and then try it at a faster tempo, and then at an even faster tempo, etc., etc. You can also ‘speak’ the rhythms while you clap/tap, saying out loud “1-2-3-4” … “1-2” … “1” … “half” … “quarter”. 

A great way to strengthen your sense of pulse (and to check you are getting all the rhythms right!) is to use a metronome … Glossary-time! … 

  • Metronome – A device (mechanical or electronic) that produces an audible beat, sounding at regular intervals and set in beats per minute (BPM). Many pieces will have a ‘metronome mark’ printed in the score, indicating the tempo of the piece to the performer. For example, a tempo of 60 beats per minute means there will be one beat per second, while a tempo of 120 beats per minute is twice as fast, one beat every 0.5 seconds.  

Have fun!

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