Rhythm explained, including 27 rhythm exercises by Daniel Laberge

Go directly to the exercises:

All binary exercises have a swing version

Hi rhythm lovers,

This method is based on mathematical possibilities applied to rhythm.
They become «rhythmic possibilities» and give a complete portrait of all the rhythmic figures used in a given subdivision.

Each possibility lasts one beat.

They are obtained by removing events off a master figure that contains all events.

Therefore:

• If the beat is divided by two; there exist four rhythmic possibilities.

• If the beat is divided by three; there exist eight rhythmic possibilities.

• If the beat is divided by four; there exist sixteen rhythmic possibilities.

On this page, you will find an exercise specifically dedicated to each rhythmic possibility.

Each exercise is preceded by a lesson, with graphic representations and detailed theory.

To help you learn, each exercise can be played back entirely on your loudspeakers or earphones at three increasing speeds.

For jazz musicians, the binary exercises also have a swing or double-swing performance. Go to the bottom of the page for a link to the swing version.

The beats

Beats are the backbone of rhythm.

Their origin is probably related to the beating of the heart.

What is a beat?

A beat is the length of time between two pulses.

Beat graphic representation

The pulses can be:

• Expressed acoustically with the foot, the hands, a metronome or an instrument,

• Expressed visually by a conductor,

• Felt, (not expressed).

How fast are the beats?

The speed of the pulsations is called the «tempo».

The slowest beats are around two seconds long, while the fastest are shorter than a quarter of a second.

Tempo is calculated in beats per minute (bpm).

A tempo of 60 bpm means that there are 60 beats in one minute, so every beat lasts one second.

At 120 bpm, there are twice more beats per minute, so each beat lasts half a second.

The average tempo for all music is just above 100 bpm.

The tempo can vary during a piece of music and it often slows down at the end, but it generally remains stable.

Choose among the following exercises:

Beat exercises

The binary beat division

The binary family is large as it includes:

•Division by two

•Division by four

•Part of division by six

•Division by eight

 

This section is concerned with the simple division by two.

Any binary beat has two alternating parts: the downbeat and the upbeat.

Binary beats

Binary beat

As you can see, there are only two places in a simple binary beat where events or notes can be positioned or played:

•The downbeat

•The upbeat

How rhythmic

possibilities work

This means that for any given beat you can only have one of the four following possibilities:

 

1• Only one event on the downbeat.

 

2• Events on both the downbeat and the upbeat.

 

3• No event at all.

 

4• Only one event on the upbeat.

Simple binary rhythmic possibilities

The binary master rhythmic figure

TWO EIGHTH NOTES

Simple binary beat representation

The rhythmic figure used to represent a binary beat is called:

TWO EIGHTH NOTES

Simple binary rhythmic figures

There exist 4 simple binary rhythmic possibilities:

•2 Primary

•2 Secondary

Simple binary rhythmic figure chart

Primary and secondary rhythmic figures

Primary and secondary simple binary possibilities chart

Secondary rhythmic figures lack the event that falls on the beat.

There is one secondary figure for each primary one.

Because the beat is so important, secondary figures have appeared in history only after the primary ones had been well established.

The absence of event falling on the beat can be due to a silence or a sound that is held over from the preceding beat.

Because of this, there are two ways to notate secondary figures:

•With a rest

•With a tie

Choose among the following exercises:

Simple binary exercises

PRIMARY

SECONDARY

MULTIPLE  SYNCOPATIONS

The ternary beat division

The ternary family is small as it includes:

•Division by three

•Part of division by six

•Division by nine

 

Everything goes in thirds in ternary music.

Any ternary beat has one downbeat and two upbeats.

Ternary beats

Ternary beat

As you can see, there are three places in a ternary beat where events or notes can be positioned or played:

•The downbeat

•The upbeat 1

•The upbeat 2

The ternary master rhythmic figure

THREE EIGHTH NOTES

Ternary master rhythmic figure: three eighth notes

The rhythmic figure used to represent a ternary  beat is called:

THREE EIGHTH NOTES

Writing ternary rhythm

In ternary music writing, each eighth note is worth one third of a beat.

Since two eighth notes always equal one quarter note; these now equal two thirds of a beat.

It takes a dotted quarter note to represent one beat.

Difference between binay and ternary writing

Ternary rhythmic figures

There exist 8 ternary rhythmic possibilities:

•4 Primary

•4 Secondary

Ternary rhythmic figure chart

Choose among the following exercises:

Ternary  exercises

PRIMARY

SECONDARY

The division by four

Beats divided by four are part of the binary family.
This is the most common feel.

Everything goes in quarters in this type of rhythm.

Beats divided by four

Beat divided by four representation

There are four places in a beat divided by four where events or notes can be positioned or played:

• The downbeat

Between the beat and the upbeat

• The upbeat
Between the upbeat and the following beat

The division by four master rhythmic figure

FOUR SIXTEENTH NOTES

Beat division by four master rhythmic figure; four sixteenth notes

The rhythmic figure used to represent a beat divided by four

is called:

FOUR SIXTEENTH NOTES

Binary rhythmic figures

There exist 16 binary rhythmic possibilities:

•8 Primary

•8 Secondary

Beat divided by four rhythmic figure chart

Choose among the following exercises:

Division by four  exercises

PRIMARY

SECONDARY

Rhythm explained, including 27 rhythm exercises by Daniel Laberge
Beat graphic representation
Simple binary rhythmic figure chart
Primary and secondary simple binary possibilities chart
Difference between binay and ternary writing
Ternary rhythmic figure chart
Beat divided by four rhythmic figure chart