In Music, there are essentially three elements that work together to create a song or piece of music. Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm. Melody is the line we usually sing, while harmony supports that melody with similar notes. Rhythm and beat are the timing elements of music and help musicians and listeners keep track of where they are in the song and add punchy tension and energy that gets people up on their feet and grooving.
But how does this work? And what are the differences between rhythm vs beat? These concepts, while different, work together to create the intricate patterns we hear in our favorite songs. Let’s explore these concepts and how they relate to each other. Before we get too deep, let’s start by talking about timing in music.
Time is the element that fuels musical motion. Whether a song or piece has drums or not doesn’t matter, every piece of music is organized by all musicians understanding and agreeing upon a particular timing for the song.
This can determine how fast/slow a song is played and how fast/slow each note in a song is played. Musicians organize time by following a timed pulse together, called a beat.
Beats are like seconds. They move steadily, always at the pace. The only difference is that the composer or producer gets to decide how fast the seconds go by in music.
This is what we call the ‘beat’ in music, and this beat ties together every element of the song. The beat is usually held down by a drummer or something called a metronome that clicks steadily to the chosen pulse of the song. In recording studios, musicians and engineers will often refer to this as a ‘click track.’ It’s important to note that we use a repetitive cycle of numbers when counting a beat to keep track. The most common beat count is 4, and it would be counted as 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. Notice that instead of counting to eight, the cycle restarts after four.
Following the beat allows musicians to play complex melodies and patterns together without getting lost. With no timing at all, the music would sound like a mess of unorganized sound. And while this can be an exciting aspect of music to include in a greater organization, human brains love patterns, which is what makes music…music!
Rhythm happens when a musician (think of a drummer for simplicity) plays sounds at different points within the beat. These rhythms can align precisely with the pulse or play between the beats to create more exciting patterns and sounds. Essentially, the rhythm of a song expands upon the steady pulse to make it more exciting and fit with different elements of the song.
Producers today work inside of something called a ‘grid.’ Inside of any DAW, a grid lays out all possible rhythms within a beat cycle allowing the producer to place sounds across a pattern finely. Drummers or live musicians need to imagine and count out the grid on their own. Musicians and producers alike should experiment with both skills for a well-rounded knowledge of rhythm in music.
The Difference Between
We have a beat, which organizes our music. It’s a repetitive pulse that does not change throughout a song. This is the foundation upon which everything else is built and follows. Not just the drummer, but all musicians in a band or ensemble must follow the beat to stay together. If they don’t, the music will sound disorganized. Musicians can fluctuate and play with this idea to create more exciting and less robotic patterns, but it won’t sound organized without a keen sense of the pulse.
Rhythms are the extension of the beat. Musicians play around the pulse to make it more exciting and create more complex patterns between different instruments. You can think of the beat as the foundation of a house and the rhythms as the studs, walls, doorways, and electrical wiring. Rhythms are the walls that create the shape of the song.
There are many more things to understand about rhythm and beats are many different online resources to explore for aspiring producers and recording artists. However, these essential elements of music hold everything together and make music exciting and interesting to listen to.