Thursday, December 18, 2014

Origins of Rhythm

A member of the Music Theory Society raised the interesting and complicated question of what in a piece of music generates the beat.

It is far from a simple thing to observe.  There are people for whom the beat comes naturally and generally for them the difficulty comes when they want to alter the beat for some reason, to play as if improvising in a cadenza, for example.

But I believe that the most interesting and reliable source of a beat is the tone itself, or rather the tones themselves: As soon as there are two or more tones in play there is a hierarchy that the ear "invents" in response to their relatedness.  The result of this is the desire to hold one of the tones longer or make it stronger than the other(s).   Whether or not one has permission to do so is a function of the note value.  Wanting to hold a note that one must move away from is fraught with tension.

That tension is characteristic of the composed rhythm we encounter in classical repertoire, and that may include works written this morning.

Not paying attention to that tension is a sure-fire way to obliterate tone awareness, not for everyone, to be sure, but often for the most gifted children.  Alas.