The Infinite Complexity of Rhythm
Just how complicated is rhythm, Mr. Gary? Isn’t it just a matter of counting to four? Well, yes, when you first get started. So is a bug, when you first see it: it’s just a round thing with legs. But the more you examine it, the more complex it becomes. Same with just about everything in nature, for that matter. And rhythm is part of nature! From tummy-rumbles to earthquakes, from the tides to the seasons and the earth’s orbit around the sun that causes them, life is full of rhythm. (For more on that, see my long blog on Dancing, Drumming and the Rhythms of Life.)
How complicated is rhythm? Okay, let’s put it this way: it’s a lot more complicated than melody and harmony. What? How can that be? Well, there are twelve tones in a chromatic scale—all the white keys in a piano octave [do re mi fa etc.], plus all the black keys, the in-between tones. Melody and harmony are made up of combinations of those twelve tones and higher or lower octaves of those tones, which are really the same tones anyway, when you come right down to it. That can make for some very complicated melodies and harmonies, to be sure! But there is a limit to the number of possibilities. Rhythm, on the other hand, is infinite. Most music we hear is counted by 4’s, but you can add beats, take them away, speed up, slow down, subdivide (whole notes can be subdivided by half notes, which are in turn subdivided by quarter notes, then eighths, sixteenths,etc.—or you can also subdivide by triplets. And if you really want to get crazy, some music has both kinds of subdivisions at the same time! Again, the first kind is counted by 4’s, and the triplets, as their name indicates, are counted by three’s.)
Rhythm is like a rubber band that can be so tiny you can’t even see it, or so big it can fit around the whole world! And that’s just one rhythm. When you’re playing a drum set at an advanced level, you are doing at least 4 rhythms at the same time (your four limbs), each working together with each other to make up a more complex rhythm. To start exploring rhythm, start tapping your hands on your legs and see if you can copy the rhythm of your favorite song. Better yet, come do drum lessons with me!