Rhytm, Meter, Tempo – What Are They?

One important part of a melody is the pitch but besides that we must deal with another highly important characteristic of notes – duration or length. You might have heard terms rhythm, meter, tempo. What are they?

  1. To produce rhythm, we need at least two notes, and they should not be played very far from each other in time. If I play one note today and the next one tomorrow, it won’t be perceived as rhythm. Rhythm is what characterizes the relations between lengths and pitches of notes.
  2. Meter is produced by regular recurrence of stressed and unstressed beats. The rule of thumb says that that the first beat of a bar is always stressed. However, there are several types of dance where the stress is elsewhere.
  3. Tempo is used to characterize how quickly it all is happening – the greater the tempo, the shorter each note will get, and vice versa. Before we start, we need to know a thing or two about rhythms and note durations: see the table above.

If there is a dot next to the note, it will add 50% to its duration. For instance, a dotted quarter note would be the length of a quarter plus an eighth.

In time signature, the more important number is the upper one – it shows how many beats there are in a bar. Time signature C means 4/4. This is an ancient time signature, abbreviation from common time, and it is indeed the most common time signature.

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