﻿ Music Theory: Rhythm and Tempo
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# Rhythm and Tempo

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(US) AP Music Theory

## Rhythmic Values

Rhythm is one of the most important parts of modern music notation and is a fundamental part of music theory.
Rhythmic lengths are usually represented by differences in the head or tail of a note.

The longest rhythmic value used today is the Breve (Double whole note).
The term 'Breve' actually comes from the Latin word 'Brevis', meaning short.
Until the 15th century it was one of the shortest rhythmic values, but the printing of music caused changes in music notation.

The breve can be notated in different ways, the most modern of which is shown first.
The other two may be encountered in old scores.

A breve/double whole-note can be split in to two parts of equal lengths, called Semibreves/Whole notes

The notation for a semibreve(whole note)is:

Semibreves/Whole notes can be spilt in to two smaller values of equal length.
These are known as Minims/Half Notes. Their notation is:

The rhythmic values can be further split in to two smaller values of equal length:

A Minim/Half Note can be split in to two Crotchets/Quarter Notes.

A Crotchet/Quarter Note can be split in to two Quavers/Eighth Notes.

Crotchet/Quarter Note can be split in to two Semiquavers/Sixteenth Notes.

A hierarchy of rhythmic durations with relation to each other has been established:

The semiquaver can be split further in half:

A Semiquaver/Sixteenth Notecan be split in to two Demisemiquavers/Thirty-Second Notes.

Shorter rhythmic values than the Demisemiquaver/Thirty-second Noteare rarely used, but they may be encountered in more advanced theory work.
Prefixes are added in the order of semi-, demi- and then hemi. eg. hemidemisemiquaver, then semihemidemisemiquaver.
The durations countinue to halve in size: Sixty-fourth Note, One-hundred-and-twenty-eighth note...

Candidates for more advanced theory papers are often required to know terms also in Italian, French and German.
Here are the Italian, French and German names for the rhythmic durations:

(f. for feminine, m. for masculine, n. for neuter)

 English (UK) English (US) Italian French German Breve Double Whole Note Breve (f.) Bréve (f.) or carrée (f.) Doppletaktnote (m.) Semibreve Whole Note Semibreve (f.) or Intero (m.) Ronde (f.) Ganze Taktnote (m), abr. 'Ganze' (f.) Minim Half Note Minima (f.) or Metá (f.) or Bianca (f.) Blanche (f.) Halbe Taktnote (m.), abr. 'Halbe' (f.) Crotchet Quarter Note Semiminima (f.) or Nera (f.) or Quarto (m.) Noire (f.) Viertel (f.) Quaver Eighth Note Croma (f.) or Ottavo (m.) Croche (f.) Achtel (f.) Semiquaver Sixteenth Note Semicroma (f.) or sedicesimo (m.) Double croche (f.) Sechzehntel (f.) Demisemiquaver Thirty-Second Note Biscroma (f.) or Trentaduesimo (m.) Triple Croche (f.) Zweiunddreißigstel (f.)

## Rests

Each rhythmic value has an equivalent rest, representing a period of silence.
The rhythmic values and their equivalent rests are shown below:

Breve/Double whole-note Rest:

Semibreve/Whole-note Rest:

Minims/Half Note Rest:

Minims/Half Note Rest:

Quaver/Eighth Note Rest:

Semiquaver/Sixteenth Note Rest:

A list of English, Italian, French and German names for the rests:

(f. for feminine, m. for masculine, n. for neuter)

 English (UK) English (US) Italian French German Breve Rest Double Whole Note Rest Pausa di breve (f.) Pause de brève (f.) or bâton (m.) Doppel Pause (m.) Semibreve Rest Whole Note Rest Pausa di semibreve (f.) Pause (f.) Ganze Pause (f.) Minim Rest Half Note Rest Pausa di minima (f.) Demi-pause (f.) Halbe Pause (f.) Crotchet Rest Quarter Note Rest Pausa di semiminima (f.) Soupir (m.) Viertelpause (f.) Quaver Rest Eighth Note Rest Pausa di croma (f.) Semi-soupir (m.) Achtelpause (f.) Semiquaver Rest Sixteenth Note Rest Pausa di semicroma (f.) Quart de soupir (f.) Sechzehntelpause (f.) Demisemiquaver Rest Thirty-Second Note Rest Pausa di biscroma (f.) Huitième de soupir (f.) Zweiunddreißigstelpause (f.)

A whole bar's rest is always represented by the semibreve rest, no matter the time signature.
Except for when there is eight beats in the bar:

Several Bars rest can be represented, usually in part scores for an ensemble, with the following symbol and a number above.

Tied Notes

Two or more notes can be tied together to combine their lengths; notes can be tied over the bar line.

Dotted Notes

Notes can be lengthened by adding a dot after the note-head, which increases the note's value by half.
Similarly, adding two dots after the note-head increases the note's value by three quarters:

Double Dotted Semibreve/Whole-note:

Double Dotted Minims/Half Note:

Double Dotted Crotchet/Quarter Note:

Double Dotted Quaver/Eighth Note:

Dotted Semibreve/Whole-note:

Dotted Minims/Half Note:

Dotted Crotchet/Quarter Note:

Dotted Quaver/Eighth Note:

Rests can be dotted too, but don't get tied. The dot for a rest is always placed on the third space of the stave.
(Execptions to this include when there are multiple voices on one stave)

Fermatas
A fermata written above a note can be used to indicate that a note should be held on for longer than the written duration or with a pause afterwards:

A short fermata can be inidated by:

A long fermata can be indicated by:

Although the normal fermata is much more common.

## Bars/Measures

A Bar/Measure is a period of time that is assigned a rhythmic duration.
A Bar/Measure is enclosed by a line through all lines of the stave, a 'barline':

Italian: Battuta/una misura     French: Une mesure     German: Takt (masculine)

A double barline is used before key changes and in a few other circumstances:

Italian: Barra/Linea     French: Double barre de mesure/barre de séparation     German: Doppeltaktstrich (masculine)

A 'final' bar line is used to indicate the end of a piece.

Italian: Barra finale     French: Double barre de fin     German: Schlussstrich (masculine)

Sections of music can be repeated though the use of repeat bar lines.

Italian: La ripetizione     French: Barre de reprise     German: Wiederholungszeichen (neutral)

Start Repeat:

End Repeat:

## SimpleTime Signtuares

The duration of a bar/measureis notated by a 'time signature'.
Time signatures consist of two numbers:

The lower number indicates a rhythmic duration:

2 is a Minim/Half Note
4 is a Quarter Note/Crotchet
8 is a Quaver/Eighth note
16 is a Semiquaver/Sixteenth note
32 is a Demisemiquaver/Thirty-second note

The number above shows how many of them there are in a bar.

The key sigature is positioned at the start of the score after the clef and key signature:

Music that has two beats (of any rhythmic duration) is said to be in "duple time".
That with three beats is in "triple time", with four beats in "quadruple time" and so on.

Simple Duple Time

Each bar is the length of 2 Minims/Half Notes.
2/2 is sometimes used for marches and often in musical theatre scores.

Each bar is the length of 2 Crotchets/Quarter Notes.
2/4 is commonly used for marches and other forms such as the Polka.

Simple Triple Time

Each bar is the length of 3 Minims/Half Notes.
3/2 is not that commonly used.

Each bar is the length of 3 Crotchets/Quarter Notes.
3/4 is commonly used for waltzes, minuets, scherzo (pl. scherzi ).

Each bar is the length of 3 Quavers/Eighth Notes.
3/8 is commonly used for waltzes, minuets, scherzi.

Each bar is the length of 4 Minims/Half notes.
4/2 is not commonly used.

Each bar is the length of 4 Crotchets/Quarter Notes.
The time signature 4/4 is the most common used in all of western classical and pop music.

## IrregularTime Signtuares

Given their irregularity, Irregular Time Signatures crop up suprisingly regularly on more advanced theory papers, but understanding them is exactly the same as all of the other time signatures.

Each bar is the length of 5 Crotchets/Quarter Notes.

Each bar is the length of 5 Quavers/Eighth Notes.

Each bar is the length of 7 Crotchets/Quarter Notes.

Each bar is the length of 7 Quavers/Eighth Notes.

Note that the time signature only indicates the length of one bar, there can be many different rhythmic durations within.
A bar of 4/4 could contain, for example: 2 minims or 4 crotchets or 8 quavers .

Usually the first beat of each bar is the strongest:

Sometimes the symbols below are used to represent time signatures of 4/4 and 2/4 respectively. Due to the fact that they resemble the letter "C", they are often referred to as 'common time' and 'cut common time', but they actually originate from 15th century (renaissance) time signatures - shown below.

This 'Common Time' Symbol represents a time signature of 4/4.

This 'Cut Common Time' Symbol represents a time signature of 2/2.

Time Signatures can be changed by writing a new time signature at the start of a bar/measure:

CompoundTime Signatures

In simple time each beat could be divided in to two:

Compound time is the name given when the beat divides in to 3 (or sometimes more)
Each 'simple' time signature has an equivalent 'compound' time signature.

We can convert a simple time signature in to an equivalent compound one by multiplying the top number by 3 and the bottom by 2.
To convert a compound time signature in to an equivalent simple one, divide the top number by 3 and the bottom by 2.

Compound Duple

Each bar is the length of 6 crotchets/quarter notes.
The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 2/2.

Each bar is the length of 6 quavers/eighth notes.
The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 2/4.

Compound Triple

Each bar is the length of 9 crotchets/quarter notes.
The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 3/2.

Each bar is the length of 6 quavers/eighth notes.
The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 3/4.

Each bar is the length of 12 crotchets/quarter notes.
The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 4/2.

Each bar is the length of 6 quavers/eighth notes.
The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 4/4.

## Beams

Two or more quavers can be beamed together to form groups:

The same is true for semiquavers and even shorter rhythmic values:

Quavers can also be beamed together with semiquavers:

Shorter rhythmic values can be beamed together in similar ways:

Beams can go up or down depending on their position on the stave.

Note-heads that are above the third line on the stave always go downwards and those that are below the third line go upwards. Note-heads on the third line may go either way, but usually follow the beams of neighbouring notes.

There are some simple rules to follow when grouping notes:

In simple time:

Notes the length of quavers or shorter should be beamed together and avoid ties where possible.

In compound time:

Notes should be grouped to show where the beat is.

## Tuplets

In compound time, each beat was split in to three or more sub-beats. We can also do this in simple time by using tuplets. The most common type of tuplet is the triplet , where the beat splits in to three parts as shown below. Notice the 3 and 6 written above groups of notes - in passages of continuous tuplets these numbers are sometimes omitted.

In the same way that triplet quavers together last the same rhythmic value as a crotchet, tripet semiquavers together last the same rhythmic value as a quaver and so on.
A beat can be split in to many different smaller divisions, some examples are shown below:

In compound time, we can use tuplets to divide the beat in to two (like simple time), or other values than 3. For example:

By using tuplets, we can write things in simple time in compound time and vice versa.

## Tempo

A time signature shows the number of beats in each bar/measureTempo is the name given to the speed of these beats.
It is usually given in 'beats per minute' (or BPM).

eg. 80 Crotchet Beats Per Minute.

Sometimes composers give a tempo marking in words, usually in Italian, to specify an approximate tempo.

eg. 'Moderato' (Moderately) indicates a tempo around 100 beats per minute.
'Allegro' (Quickly) would indicate a tempo around 120 beats per minute.

A list of terms like this can be found in our Musical Theory Dictionary section by clicking here .

## Rhythmic Devices

Syncopation

Syncopation is the name given to a rhythmic contradiction in which the strong beat beat falls in an otherwise unexpected place.
Some examples are given below:

Suspended Syncopation:

Accented Syncopation:

Missing Note Syncopation:

Anacrusis

An Anacrusis is the name given to a note/notes that preceed the downbeat.
For example, happy birthday:

## Online Exercises

Selecting Suitable Time Signatures

## Worksheets

Rhythm: Beginner

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