The Rhythm Book: Studies in Rhythmic Reading and Principles

The Rhythm Book: Studies in Rhythmic Reading and Principles

by Peter Phillips

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This excellent textbook is directed to students and their teachers who want to further their mastery of rhythmic reading and notation. Through study of its principles, and through practice of the simple drills and exercises that occur throughout the book, readers can build the broad and fluent rhythmic vocabulary necessary for a good, basic understanding of music's essentials.
Chapter by chapter, Peter Hampton Phillips, composer and educator, familiarizes the reader with the various signs, symbols, and units of rhythmic notation. For each area, he includes studies for playing and singing, and illuminating examples from nine centuries of music literature.
The book includes a section on basic conducting technique and an appendix on sight-singing with drills that can enable singers and instrumentalists to "read ahead"; that is, to scan across the page, grasping new patterns as they appear. Other highly useful appendixes to this essential text demonstrate the principles of musical notation; illustrate a broad range of conducting patterns; list tempo markings in English, Italian, German, and French; and present typical problems and solutions of rhythmic notation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486144580
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 04/07/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 208
File size: 30 MB
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Read an Excerpt

The Rhythm Book

Studies in Rhythmic Reading and Principles

By Peter Hampton Phillips

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1995 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14458-0


Introduction to the Dover Edition,
General Suggestions for Practicing the Exercises,
Chapter I Unmeasured Exercises,
Chapter II Beat and Meter,
Chapter III Exercises in 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 Meters,
Chapter IV The Simple Beat,
Chapter V Simple Meter,
Chapter VI Further Studies and Practice in Simple Time,
Chapter VII The Division of the Simple Beat,
Chapter VIII The Notation of Compound Time,
Chapter IX The Division of the Compound Beat,
Chapter X The Substitution of Beat Types:,
Chapter XI Changing and Additive Meters,
Basic Movement and Goal,
The Preparatory Beat,
Conducting Patterns,
Basic Conducting Frames,
Appendix A Sight-Singing,
Appendix B A Guide to the Principles of Rhythmic Notation,
Appendix C A Chart of Quintuple Meters,
Appendix D Five-, Six- and Nine-Beat Conducting Patterns,
Appendix E Some Observations on Compound Meter Signatures,
Appendix F Tempo Markings in English, Italian, German and French,
Appendix G Music Examples and Their Sources,
Appendix H Footnotes (Listed Alphabetically by Subject),



Suggestions for Practicing the Exercises

intoning and tapping

Practice the exercises in Chapter I by tapping the beat with the left hand while intoning the syllable ta (short a as in father) as indicated. The procedure for tapping beats is to cup the hand and tap a table or desk top with the tips of the fingers - only the fingers should move. Always use the left hand unless directed otherwise. The usual hand designations of L.H. and R.H. are employed throughout.

Conscientious tapping of beats is important, for it will aid you in learning (1) to maintain a steady tempo, and (2) to equate each of the different note values with the appropriate number of beats.

tapping and indications

To facilitate the student's grasp of the examples, vertical marks indicating beats have been included in the earlier sections of this book. These marks, called ictus marks, are soon omitted, and the tapping of beats is indicated solely by the instruction tap.

Departures from these procedures are not recommended except as indicated in the text.

A. Whole and Half Notes: o, [flat]

Repeat Ex. 1a, counting as before and tapping the beats with the left hand.

Note: In this chapter, for the purpose of introducing reading principles, the quarter note is taken as being equal to one beat. The principles of our notational system are discussed in Chapters IV and V.

In the following exercises, the whole note 0 is held for four counts (four beats) and the half note [flat] is held for two counts.

Repeat Ex. 1e, reversing the hands: tap the beats with the right hand and the rhythm pattern with the left.

Repeat Ex. 2c, exchanging the parts: R.H. taps beats, and L.H. taps the rhythm pattern.

B. Whole and Half Rests: [??], [??]

Rests denote silence. The whole rest [??] denotes four beats of silence [??] the half rest [??], two beats.

When placed on a staff, the whole rest hangs down from the fourth line, and the half rest rises up from the third:


It is important to count all rests accurately, for they must be played in the right time and place — just as notes are.

When tapping out the rhythm patterns that follow, raise the right hand during rests to indicate the "playing" of the silence. Continue tapping the beats with the left hand unless directed otherwise.

Repeat Ex. 2b, tapping both parts.

Optional: Repeat, intoning ta. Simultaneously tap the rhythm pattern with the right hand and the beat with the left.

C. The Tie: [??], [??]

A tie joins two or more notes together to form a duration equal to their combined lengths. Thus, when a whole note (four beats) is tied to a half note (two beats), the resultant duration is equal to six full beats.

D. The Dot:

A dot following a note or rest extends the length or duration of that note or rest by one half. For example, a dotted ,whole note is held for six beats: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], as is the dotted whole rest: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (In actual practice, of course, the tied rest docs not exist as a notational device.) Dots are always placed to the right of the note head or the rest.

E. The Breve and Double Whole Rest: [??], [??]

The breve, written [??] or [??], is a double whole note and is held for eight beats or twice the duration of a whole note. Still used occasionally, it was at one time an important unit of notation and will be found frequently in editions of old music.

The double whole rest [??] indicates eight beats of silence.

F. The Quarter Note and Quarter Rest: [??], [??]

The quarter note [??] and quarter rest [??] are each one beat long.

G. The Dotted Half Note, Dotted Half Rest and the Double Dot: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

A dotted half note gets three beats [??]. Its duration is equal to that of a half note tied to a quarter note [??]. Similarly, the dotted half rest [??] denotes three beats of silence.

When the double dot is used, the second of the two dots indicates an additional extension in duration equal to one-half the value of the first dot. The time value of the second dot may also be expressed as being one-quarter of the value of the note itself. For example, a double-dotted whole note [??] is held for seven beats: [??] which equals [??]

H. Review of Chapter I

I. Studies for Playing and Singing

The following studies are for class and individual use. If performed individually, one part is to be sung while the other(s) are played on the piano.

Preliminary studies and suggested procedure for sight-singing may be found in Appendix A.

J. Related Examples from the Literature

Victimae paschali, Wipo of Burgundy (?) (11th c.)

Nostra phalanx, Anon. (12th c.)

Sainte Marie, St. Godric (?) (English, 12th c.)

O Lord give ear, Thomas Lupo (17th c.)

Each group of examples is related to a specific area of study, and the majority of them can and should be sung or played by the student.

Occasionally, compositions have been simplified by the author to keep them within the scope of the problems at hand. Where such changes occur, the original version is indicated by small notes.

The following procedure is suggested for practice of these exercises:

1. Determine the scale, mode or tonality in which the piece is written.

2. In an even rhythm, recite the appropriate note name, scale degree or solfège syllable.

3. Repeat the recitation in the notated rhythm.

4. Sing the piece. If the student is working by himself, he should first sing through each line of the music. Thereafter, any additional parts should be played on the piano, accompanying the singing of a single line. Likewise in group performance, the entire class should sing each of the parts before proceeding to ensemble part-singing.

5. Chapter X contains examples from orchestral scores. To use these, the group should be divided into as many real parts as there are in the selection (that is, omitting lines which are simple doublings), and perform the work as a rhythmic ensemble drill.

6. Available instrumental combinations should play those compositions which seem suitable for that performance medium; many of the examples are ideal for this purpose.

(Note: Good sight-readers may omit the first three steps.)

Victimæ paschali

Note: The small, vertical lines — typically found in editions of old music — indicate the division of text-music phrases. The double lines conclude larger phrases. The repeat mark [??] is a convenience used here in its modern form.



The Beat

The most fundamental force in music is the beat, for it is the generator of rhythmic activity.

The beat embodies the basic principle upon which all aspects of rhythm are based: the alternation of strong and weak.


The beat is the primary source of rhythmic patterns and is the means by which they are understood.

The beat functions as the foundation upon which most musical composition rests, and as the background against which it unfolds.

Beats are regular pulsations which mark off, or measure, musical time.

what beats are

Each individual beat consists of a two-part sequence: the build-up and the release of energy or tension. This sequence is a process similar to that of breathing, in that each complete breath consists of a build-up (inhalation) and a release (exhalation). This sequence is usually continuous, and we tend to think of beats in terms of a series. The series, once established, is experienced until the section, part or composition has ended.

Not all beats in a series need be sounded to be experienced, for, once established, they are felt whether sounded or not.

A demonstration:

Think of the line below as being a musical sound.

Sing it as a single tone using the syllabic ta. Hold the tone for about six seconds.


Is this a long or a short note? Is it a whole note, a half note or a quarter note?

Obviously, the durational aspect of the tone cannot be understood. Nor can it be understood as being part of a fast or slow movement, because there is nothing against which to measure it — nothing by which its duration can be understood. It is simply a musical sound.

In the following examples, however, the tone is sounded in conjunction with the tapping of beats. Proceed this way: sound the tone as before (about six seconds), and tap the beats as shown in examples b through f. The beats must be evenly spaced, falling like the ticking of a well-regulated clock: no holding back and no jumping ahead. Try not to vary the duration of the tone at any time.


The addition of beats to the tone makes the dimension of speed and duration meaningful. Because beats mark off equal units of time, they indicate the speed of the music and, hence, the number of beats in the tone. The relative speed, or rate of occurrence of the beat, is called tempo (plural : tempi).

In the examples above, we can understand the tone as having a specific duration: two, three, four beats, etc. In short, beats create tempo, and the faster the beats occur, the faster the tempo becomes.


the measure and the bar line

When every second, third or fourth beat (etc.) of a series of beats is accented, meter is established.

A metric group consists of an accented beat followed by one or more unaccented beats and is called a measure (or, commonly, a bar).

Each measure is enclosed by vertical dividing lines called bar lines.

The strong, or accented, first beat with which any metric pattern (measure) begins is called the downbeat (the "primary accent"):

downbeat and upbeat

ONE - two / ONE - two

ONE - two - three / ONE - two - three

The downbeat is comparable to that part of an individual beat in which the energy is released ([down arrow]).

The final beat of any metric pattern is called the upbeat. Its function is to prepare the following downbeat in the same way that raising the arm builds up energy that is released when the arm is lowered if ([up arrow] [down arrow]).

The most common metric patterns consist of two, three or four beats and appear most frequently as the following meters:



(The bottom number simply represents the kind of note that gets one beat. This is discussed in Chapter V.)

In 2/4 meter, the two beats — downbeat and upbeat — are comparable in effect to the two parts of the beat itself: one is strong, the other weak. Release of energy ... build-up of energy.

In meters containing larger numbers of beats — such as three or four — the upbeat effect is extended to include the additional beats:


secondary accent.

In a four-beat meter, the third beat usually receives a slight accent, one which is weaker than the downbeat. This is called a secondary accent. Because it is weaker, it is easily distinguished from the primary accent or downbeat:


Four-beat meters sometimes omit secondary accents:


Most larger meters have one or more secondary accents:


But, while uncommon, there are larger meters which may not have secondary accents:


Meter is an effect that is superimposed over the evenly weighted pattern created by the beats themselves. To illustrate this, count from 1 to 10 as in the example below. Then, still counting, raise and lower your arm as indicated by the curving arrow:


In this example, the first group of ten (without arm movement) flows along evenly. Adding the arm movement results in the simultaneous performance of two separate but interrelated actions and the creation of tension. Similarly, beat and meter work together to create, in effect, a two-dimensional movement which pumps and thereby propels music forward.


meter signatures

Meter signatures are not fractions. They are little formulas which meter signatures indicate two facts about a particular composition or section of a work: the number of beats per measure and the type of note equivalent to one beat.

In Chapter III, we deal with exercises in [??], [??] and [??] meters. The upper number of each of these signatures indicates the type of meter: that there are two, three or four beats per measure; the lower number is a numerical representation of the type of note equivalent to one beat: here the 4 indicates a quarter note [??], as 2 would indicate a half note [??], 8 an eighth note [??] and so on.

Thus, in the above signatures, the lower 4 indicates that a quarter note is equal to one beat, as follows:



Meter signatures are always placed at the beginning of a composition immediately following the clef sign and key signature — if there is one? Thereafter, meter signatures are added only when the meter changes; at such a change of meter, the new signature is placed immediately after the bar line of the measure in which it takes effect:


bar lines pickup

As indicated above, bar lines are used to separate metric patterns, or measures. The first single bar line in a composition is placed at the end of the first full measure or following a pickup (a partial measure preceding the first full measure):


The end of a composition is indicated by a double bar line, the first thin and the second thick [??].

Often, important sectional divisions within a composition are indicated by the use of a double bar line, both thin . (On occasion, double bar lines are also used immediately after an upbeat (pickup) which begins a work; however, there is no fixed "rule" regarding this sort of usage):




In this chapter, the quarter note [??] always represents (equals) one beat.

When practicing these exercises, intone (ta) the rhythmic pattern and tap the beats with the left hand unless directed otherwise.

A. Preliminary Exercises in [??]



(This exercise introduces several new musical signs and word indications. They are defined below.)

Note: While the whole rest is always placed in the middle of the measure, the half rest is written in its proper rhythmic position, as if it were a half note. A half rest which straddles a secondary accent is divided into two quarter rests: [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]

B. Whole, Half and Quarter Notes and Rests in [??]

Ties and Syncopations in [??]

Syncopation is a special effect that occurs on two levels :

(1) as an apparent displacement or shifting of the primary accent within a given metric pattern:


(2) in emphasizing normally unaccented or irregular divisions of the beat:

By placing emphasis where it is not expected, a surprising effect is created : a new pattern is felt, temporarily replacing the original one.

The following examples demonstrate the use of the tie [??], both to familiarize the student with its common usage:


and to create syncopated patterns:


Note: The student will have observed that certain similar patterns are notated differently, such as in Ex. 1, measures 1-2:


and in Ex. 2, measures 5-6 and 10-11:


Although inconsistent, this sort of variable notation has been included in the examples for its study value and to familiarize the student with a variety of notational possibilities.

D. Two- and Three-Part Drills in [??]

These drills may be performed by one person or by two or more.

A solo performer should intone one part and tap the other (s). Classes should be divided into groups of equal size, each group assigned to a single part.


Excerpted from The Rhythm Book by Peter Hampton Phillips. Copyright © 1995 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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