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PSYC56H3 (8)

the complexities of rhythm article summary

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Mark Schmuckler

The Complexities of Rhythmy Most have intuitive notion of what is meant by rhythm in music y Often rhythm that provides the basic structures as well as the dominant emotional character of a piece of musicie Short tune dance jazz improve or symphonic work y Establishes a regular pulse in relation to which the musical events develop in everchanging combination from most simple and safe even tedious to extremely complex and tense y May feel it in the body as an impetus to moveoften do ie Tap foot clap hands shake head dance y But rhythm no always an energizer can be used to calm down and relax ie Lullabies y Rhythm and motion are inextricably joined to each other as are motion and emotion y But is it really correct to ascribe all these elements on rhythm o music composed of many different elementsmelody harmony and timbre y In most Western music all these components work togetherinteract in more or less complicated ways y Always timbre associated with musical instruments or voices y Always melody and rhythm may be harmony as when tune accompanied by underlying chords or when several independent parts combine in polyphonic music as by JS Bach y Hard to avoid impression though that rhythm is somehow basic in the musical process y Music takes place in time and the temporal organization of the sound events achieved through rhythm simply must be fundamental importance y No melody without rhythm melody presupposes rhythmy But rhythm does not presuppose melodycan clap or drum a rhythm without trace of melodic content y Usual distinction btw melody and rhythm not always relevant two concepts often fuse in musical reality y Harmony is dependent on rhythm for similar reasons y Whether there are chords or tone combinations resulting from different voices in polyphonic music they proceed and change according to the rhythmic organizations the process called harmonic rhythm y Despite facts and selfevident experience of rhythm difficult to agree upon a definition of rhythm hundreds used as a concept in many contexts other than music and dance eg Poetry speech architecture drama filmathletics body movements biological processesheartbrain rhythms diversity testimony of importance of rhythm however makes definition more difficult other field leave out present discussion except for such body movements that have a natural connection to music y Adopt a working definition of musical or auditory rhythm as being o A response to music or sound sequences of certain characteristics comprising experiential as well as behavioral aspects y By analyzing and investigating these aspects of the rhythm responsemainly experiential and by studying characteristics of music or sound sequences that elicit rhythm responses of various kinds should come closer to an understanding of phenomenabut seems wise to keep aspirations at a low levely Fascination for rhythm and music is due to elusiveness defies our usual analytic tools and keeps showing other sides of itself when we think we have caught some of themy Music expert may find some of the statements about relationships between various musical elements simplistic and incomplete y May also point out that there is in fact music without rhythm not in avantgarde music from our century and would ask what degree discussion is applicable to music outside areas of Western art music and popular music focused here y Can only agree and answer that rhythm is very large subject and this chapter is short chapter tell story with more nuances and inspire further reading more comprehensive texts Rhythm versus NonRhythm y first step in defining rhythm would be to make clear the difference between rhythm and nonrhythm will find one or more of following characteristics which are said to delimit rhythm from nonrhythm Grouping y experience of rhythm means some kind of experiences grouping of sound events o you perceive the rhythm as a patternas a whole not as a series of isolated events y good example of gestalt o key concept in Gestalt psychologylaunched in Germany 1910s and accepted in psychologyy easy to demonstrate principle of grouping o if someone claps or plays a rhythm ad asks you to reproduce it can usually do so without conscious reflection regarding how many claps there were or how they were organized o just clap pattern limits if rhythm too complex to grasp at once analysis of difficult points may help once they are mastered may return to the spontaneous nonreflecting mode of working y early experimental psychology around 1900 shown that this tendency to grouping is so strong that even if you use a completely uniform sequence of sounds all sounds are exactly alike and come at an absolutely regular rate eg a series of identical ticks people tend to hear these sounds in groups of two three or four or even larger unitsy how many members are grouped together depends on the rate o the faster the rate the ore members in the perceived group and vice versa y no physical bases in the stimulus to suggest a grouping this kid of grouping named subjective rhythmization but according to our definition of rhythm given earlier rhythm may always be considered as subjective in the sense that it is some kind of response y sometimes on can read reports in which it is claimed that the rhythm factor has been eliminated or controlled by making all tones in a melody equally long and equally loud o in view of the foregoing not convincing grouping may appear despite these equalities y furthermore the sequence of pitches in the melody may in itself suggest grouping y to keep melody and rhythm strictly apart seems fruitless Accent y experience of rhythm further characterized by experienced accenting on one or more members of pattern y simplest case group with only two events o accent may occur on the first of themONEtwoONEtwo etc o or the second oneTWO oneTWO y with three members the most common case is probably ONEtwothree eg oompahpah but oneTWOthree or onetwo THREE may occur as well y can also be more than only two levels or degrees of accent this is accented and unaccented o ie the first event is accented the second is unaccented and third somehow in between y with group of four members the number of alternatives increases further and four different levels of accent prominence may be used as for instance ONEtwoTHREEfour y these examples are but a few common cases to suggest the variety of alternatives and possibilities available in real music y behavioural response to accents is often easily observed
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