A Steady Flow Of Something Is Called A N Sense of Meter in Music

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Sense of Meter in Music

There are two major categories in music: pitch and rhythm. Pitch affects harmony and melody, and rhythm is associated with meter, beat, measure, and tempo. Pitch is related to frequency, but we won’t cover that in this article. Rhythm is related to time and its Greek origin means “flow”. There are many ways to describe rhythm but simply put it is the timed flow of music or the count of durations (note values). Each note has a specific number regardless of its pitch.

We have simple and compound time signatures (musical measurements of number of beats, also called metric signatures). However, the compound can be simplified to two or three or four beats. Let’s take a waltz that has three beats. This means that throughout the piece we count with “one, two, three” repetitions. One is the strongest beat and then two is the weakest and three is the weakest. This is what we call the “downbeat” or strong beat and is the impulse. Subsequent beats are carry-throughs.

To really understand this meaning of meter, try the following movement to embody it: Listen to a waltz like the Blue Danube by Johann Strauss and measure along with it. You will notice that you are repeatedly counting to three. Stand and while bending your knees, clap on the first beat and then slowly straighten your body and raise your arms above your head, on the second and third beats, towards the ceiling. Then move your hands back down and clap once more on the first beat, repeating the same motion. Keep it until you have finished the whole piece.

Please note that this has nothing to do with what the metronome is doing. A metronome helps the player keep a steady tempo (speed). However, this body movement helps the musician identify the downbeat and get the energy there so that the rest of the beats flow smoothly. A similar analogy is driving a car. You first press the accelerator to get up to speed and then the speed goes on.

Also, because the downbeat is accentuated (more tension), musicians tend to overextend it, i.e. apply too much raw power to the beat, which lacks proper control and which destroys the music. What does this range of motion exercise help with?

Remember that rhythm carries the piece and drives the pitch-related aspects of the music. Therefore, having the meaning of the meter, embodying it, the piece will be more precise, shapely, coherent and refined.

It’s all part of a philosophy known as “movement education” or “the body in performance,” Dr. Developed by Alexandra Pearce, Professor Emeritus, University of Redlands, under whom I studied. Movement education takes many aspects of music (such as phrasing) away from the instrument into a physical, kinetic form. The results are more meaningful performances, as the music becomes more sensational, using one’s whole being, in one sense only, hearing.

By Evelyn Simonian

© 2010. Evelyn Simonian

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