We use the word ‘rhythm’ to cover all kinds of things. In general terms, when we talk about the rhythm we tend to mean both regular beats and varied patterns made by arranging notes of different lengths. All humans are born with a sense and appreciation of rhythm, probably because we come packaged up with a heart which beats a regular pulse inside us, and many of the things we do as part of our daily routine have a natural rhythm.
The concept of rhythm needs to be broken down so that we can see how a piece of music which is rhythmically interesting is constructed. There is a hierarchy of rhythm which can be explained using four key words:
Pulse Tempo Metre Rhythm
We will look at each of these terms more closely, but for a concise explanation, it can help to remember the following:
Pulse is the beat, usually (but not always) regular, that most music has. When we tap our foot, we are responding to the pulse.
Tempo is the speed of the pulse.
Metre is the way in which we arrange the pulse, into equal groups of maybe 2, 3 or 4 beats.
Rhythm is the pattern created by having notes of different lengths within the metre.