Introduction to Rhythm



Today it’s time to start getting into the very basics of reading music, by starting with reading rhythm.  It’s important to become really familiar with these simple concepts in order to tackle more difficult ones, so to really make sure you know your stuff, print off and complete the exercises below:

Rhythm Exercises

Counting rhythms

Counting time signatures

Refer to the video for specific instructions on how to complete ’em.

What is rhythm?

There are different components to rhythm. Rhythm is defined as a repeated pattern of movement and sound – think of it as the big picture. Rhythm is made up of beats and is usually based on a tempo. Beats can be thought of as all the little pieces that make the big picture – the rivers, the trees, the blue sky, and so on. Sounds like a nice picture. So to create a rhythm, you need a tempo – which is a speed. Next, we need to organize these beats into groups – a common grouping is in fours.

Basic rhythms

You’ve probably noticed that there are different looking notes – black and notes with stems, stemless notes, and dots. These all indicate different rhythm values.

These black notes, also known as quarter notes, get 1 beat. Think about a clock ticking – for every tick you hear, that counts as one beat.

The white note is called the half note. This is worth 2 beats – it’s twice as long as the quarter note. The easiest way to keep track of this note is to count to two when you see it. To go back to the clock example, this would count for the duration of two ticks.

The next type of note is the stemless note. It’s called a whole note, and it has the biggest value of any notes – 4 beats. When you play this note, you count up to four (four clock tips).

This introduction wouldn’t be complete without an introduction to the dotted half note, which is worth three beats. All these rhythms are demonstrated in the video if you’d like to hear how they sound.

The time signature

One other aspect of rhythm that I’d like to talk about today is the time signature. This handy little piece of information tells us how many beats are grouped in a measure. In 4/4 time, the top 4 is telling us there are 4 beats per bar. The bottom 4 is just representing a quarter note, it’s like saying 4 quarter beats per bar.

A couple other common time signatures are ¾ and 2/4. Again, that bottom 4 represents a quarter note. But when the top number is 3, it’s saying that each bar adds up to 3. And when it’s 2, it adds up to 2.

So why is this important?

Pretty much every song you hear on the radio, and the majority of classical music, measures time in small groupings, like 4/4, which is the most common. Without that 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, we wouldn’t be able dance or headbang or sway to the beat.

You’ll notice how beat #1 is always the strongest – that’s the beat you’d be headbanging on. Time signatures give us this rhythmic structure so we can groove out. Without it, songs wouldn’t be catchy and we wouldn’t be able to anticipate when to pull out all our cool moves.

Check out the PDFs at the start of this blog post, and print them out to practice counting rhythms for the extra practice.



Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.