September 17 Readings/Class Notes – History
Rhythm and Timbre
– The most fundamental element of music. Why? When recalling a favourite
song, most will remember the rhythm before the melody. When hearing a
piece for the first time, rhythm is often first noticed.
– The organization of time in music. Divides spans of time into smaller, easier
to understand units. Gives shape to the melody or tune
Why is it important to distinguish between different rhythmic elements?
a. Why important to distinguish b/w beat, metre, grouping, accent, stress?
– So you can accurately describe the music – you want to be able to describe
how different musical elements interact. Understand how rhythm is formed.
– The various elements combine to produce a certain effect.
– The intention – the fact that we hear it as music produces music, so we
need to be specific.
Beat - “an even pulse that divides the passing of time into equal
– Example: Handel – Zadok the Priest (1727) – played at every coronation.
– Musical effect produced due to the simple, steady pulse. Musical element
interacts with harmony and dynamics. When rhythm is focused on, it can
create a desire for more complexity and produce a powerful effect.
– “The gathering of beats into regular groups” (Wright).
Why is metre alone insufficient to explain the effect of rhythmic
– It doesn't say anything about the effect the piece has on us.
– The stress on certain beats is not there, so it is difficult to hear emotion.
Handel – Apollo e Dafne (1710) vs. Schumann, Symphony No. 4 in D minor
How do we define these rhythmic elements?
Handel – calming, lovely, relaxing piece.
Schumann – not much faster, but a different effect – the stress is heavily on
the first beat.
– Interaction of different elements make the music meaningful to us.
“Grouping of sounds is not dictated by their real relations, but is completed by us, in an act that is subject to the will” (Scruton).
Terry Riley, In C (1964)
– 53 different musical elements. People can choose where they want to start,
as long as it is in tempo. Do it in a group of people – performers and
listeners create their own rhythmic grouping.
– However obvious the metrical organization of a piece of music is, there will
be subsidiary groupings and stresses we can put on it which we can change
and emphasize. Intelligent listening and playing are required.
“the primary form of rhythmic emphasis, the bringing forward into consciousness
of a particular moment into the rhythmic order” (Scruton)
Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring (1913) – accents are crucial in bringing out certain
parts of a piece.
– How to bring out parts in music: volume, staccato, pitch,
– Stravinsky provides other instruments – ex: the horns.
– Accent - may fall on or off the ‘beat.'
– Accent is the primary form of rhythmic emphasis – helping us to focus on a
particular part in a rhythm.
– Although it can arise through a momentary increase in volume, this is
neither necessary nor sufficient to create the accent. The difference
between an accented and an unaccented note is a difference of attack, and
is most clearly understood in those cases, like the bowing of a violin, in
which the instrument itself is attacked in different ways.
– The distinction between beat in the sense of measure and accent is clearly
illustrated by syncopation.
– A syncopated rhythm is a single rhythm, in which the accent falls regularly
off the beat—often on a note which lies between two beats
Accent – Downbeat
“the first and by far the strongest beat in the measure.” (Wright).
Ex: Bach Cello Prelude – Downbeat is emphasized by resonance by ending on a
low G, slurs, feels longer due to the slurs contrasting with the staccatos.
– Gives us structure for the rest of the piece. All the harmony is based on the