When we hear expressions like “what a rhythm” or “I’ve heard that rhythm before” and other similar ones, we are referring to patterns that we recognize as musical, that we have probably already heard on other occasions, contexts and compositions.

They are the sacred rhythms, the deepest root that structures and organizes the music that is made, at any time, in any way and that gives each composition a certain character.

Rhythm, beat, pulse

The first thing we have to say and emphasize about this issue is that rhythm, as a concept and as a reality in our lives, is something that manifests itself in many moments and circumstances. It is something so deep and basic in the way we perceive and understand the world around us that it is worth being well aware of it.

In the article entitled “Rhythm in music” I speak more precisely about these implications and the way in which practically everything in our existence is traversed and sustained, to a certain extent, in rhythm.

The truth is that, for people who have not received formal musical education of any kind or who simply have not paid special attention to the intricacies of the songs and music that are heard everywhere every day, the musical rhythm, the bars and the pulse, among other concepts, may seem synonymous or theoretical matters without importance.

But for those who are interested in understanding how these works that enter through our ears and make us feel, excite us and, sometimes, even shake us, are made, there are some things to clarify in this matter.

The elementary rhythmic unit is the pulse. It is something regular that is at the base of any rhythmic combination, pattern or key. You can listen to it in any composition or just perceive it as implicit, as a reference for the rest of the elements that make up the music of the piece. It can be faster or slower and, in principle, it does not include accents.

The drums sometimes carry the musical rhythm

The compasses, to sum up the topic a lot, are groups of pulses and accents, stronger or more intense pulses, which are repeated regularly during a work or part of it. They are the well-known 2/4, 4/4, 6/8 and others. Generally, compasses are divided into a few categories to distinguish them.

Let’s look at a sample of these basic musical rhythms that we call bars:

  • Binaries (2/4, 6/8)
  • Ternarios (3/4, 9/8)
  • Quaternaries (4/4, 8/12)
  • Amalgam (5/4, 7/4, etc…)

Finally, on those pulses and those measures, the rhythms are executed, the percussive combinations that we all recognize and that, depending on the cultural environment in which they occur, will receive names such as pattern, clave, stick, etc…

That being said, we are going to focus on those rhythms that we recognize, on that perception that we have of each combination.

Rhythms and musical genres

If we go back to the real world, to the immediacy of music, and leave theoretical issues aside for a moment (although pulse, bars and so on are very, very real), if we go to the most obvious and perceptible of musical rhythms, we We quickly find ourselves with the styles, with the musical genres themselves.

Musical rhythms have such a gigantic power that, by themselves, they can almost completely define a musical genre.

And, although we are used to linking rhythm with percussive instruments such as drums, clapping or complete drums, in reality musical rhythms manifest themselves in any instrument, even in the voice, at the very moment they are unfolding and reach our ears.

Music without rhythm would not be music. Without chords or melody, yes, but without rhythm it would be incomprehensible. That is the enormous power we are talking about.

When we hear the bossa nova key played by a guitar or a piano, we immediately recognize that genre, that particular way of channeling a melody, a phrasing or any compositional idea.

Everything we hear with that implicit key will respond and happen in relation to it, absolutely everything. And if something strays too far from that particular pattern of beats and accents, we’ll quickly notice that something isn’t in place, that it sounds wrong, or that it just doesn’t make sense.

Some well-known musical rhythms

To specify even more and understand exactly what a musical rhythm is, we are going to put some well-known examples and we will completely clear up any doubts.

In addition to the Bossa Nova, which I have just mentioned, other well-known and recognizable musical rhythms that have been practiced in the last decades could be the bolero, the rumba, the chacarera, the funk or the very reggaeton or denbow , which is known as called at the beginning.

Any piece of music or song will use at least one musical rhythm, a sequence of beats, and accents are repeated with some regularity.

And, for example, when you want to make a version or cover of a song that implies a change of rhythm, the rest of the musical elements must be adapted to the new proposed rhythm so that the whole sounds coherent.

As you can see, the rhythm commands, mercilessly, from the bottom to the top, omnipresent and all-powerful.


Finally, the musical rhythms, which could easily be seen as the backbone of the music and the songs.

Its hierarchy and importance is such that there is no other musical element, not even the lyrics of the songs, to a large extent, that can ignore or evade the rhythm of a composition.

In fact, the first reason why we sometimes hear a performer or band playing strangely, imprecisely, or with some confusion is when a part strays from the expected or suggested sense and rhythmic movement.

The musical rhythms are inspiration and human expression at full capacity.

With just our hands, or moving our feet, or tapping our thighs or chest with musical intent, so we can activate a rhythmic pattern and start making music.