Using the Introduction to Rhythm, Meter, and Form

The Introduction to Rhythm, Meter, and Form is intended to be used intermittently throughout the typical two-year theory curriculum. Each of the four parts can be introduced separately and blended into an already effective program. The first two parts, Rhythm as Heard and Meter, comprise Sections I through V of the text.  Sections VI through XII deal with matters of notation. The final two Sections introduce the concept of Form as Rhythm.  Section XIII gives definitions of phrase prototypes and hypermeter. The final Section XIV demonstrates a rhythmic analysis showing the relation of phrase rhythm and hypermeter. 

Teachers interested in expanding the cultural scope of beginning study may wish to spend more time on the first part, using a preponderance of non-Western European music. The parts on meter and notation offer lots of opportunities for composition projects. Introducing hypermeter when the study of form is undertaken will, it is hoped, elevate rhythm to its deserved position beside thematic and tonal approaches to form.    

Rhythm as Heard

The motivation for writing and teaching the Introduction to Rhythm, Meter, and Form was to present a model that originates in the music we hear, including music that is unmeasured as well as measured. Thus, time is spent initially listening to a variety of musical examples lying both within and without the Western canon. Doing so, students begin to develop critical thinking skills and a vocabulary for sharing what they hear with others, broadening and clarifying their ideas about how music “goes.” 


Measured music is presented as a heard structure, with metric organization illustrated by the now common dot maps. Conducting patterns, as embodiments of metric structure, are practiced until they become automatic gestures that act like metronomes. Tempo is stressed as a crucial determinant of basic duple and triple metric structures, especially with triple pulses that may be heard as the slowest or fastest members in a multileveled network. Expressive potentials of meter, as resources for the composer, are considered, including 1) varying the number of levels available to the listener, 2) emphasizing one or more levels using dynamics, orchestration, etc., 3) implying a pulse that can be extrapolated by the listener, 4) mixing groups of different lengths in the same pulse stream, and 5) stretching and contracting one or more levels using rubato, accelerando, and ritardando.


The ability to use more than one time signature and notation for the same heard example is introduced, and the tuplet is given coequal status as a way to notate a triple pulse. Two kinds of meter are proposed, duple and triple, with the 9/8 type as an outlier, as in “a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.” An account of other metric organizations ends the discussion of notation.

Form as Rhythm

Approaching form from the perspective of the partitioning of time is accomplished by presenting phrase, period, and sentence prototypes along with hypermeter. A sample rhythmic analysis showing the interaction of phrase and hypermeter, and how the hypermetric scheme can be conducted, is offered as a transition to more advanced rhythmic analysis.