Discovering music through listening
Discovering music through listening

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Discovering music through listening

4 Rhythm

This is a photograph of hands playing a drum
Figure 6 Musicians sounding rhythms on drums

So far, you have considered aspects of musical time which underpin the sounds themselves – pulse, tempo and metre. Now you’ll turn your attention to how musical sounds are distributed over time, and their relationship with pulse, tempo and metre. These relationships and the patterns of varying different lengths of sound, known as rhythm, help to characterise the music.

Activity 5

Listen to a well-known rhythmic pattern from the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. As you do try to identify the combination of long and short sounds which comprise the famous opening motif (the first four musical notes that we hear). You might jot this down with an ‘●’ indicating short sounds and a ‘–’ indicating long sounds.

Active content not displayed. This content requires JavaScript to be enabled.
Audio 10: Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, First Movement, 00:00–00:30
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


In previous sections, you have considered musical time and its relation to movement, and in this extract you’ll hear the rhythm that Beethoven reportedly described as ‘Thus Fate knocks at the door!’. In transcribing the rhythm, you may have heard three short notes, followed by a longer note, which could be written as ●●● –. Anyone familiar with Morse code will recognise the pattern you were asked to transcribe as representing the letter ‘V’ and this was famously adopted by the Allied forces in the Second World War as a powerful symbol of the war effort, reflecting Beethoven’s own belief in personal liberty.

This is a photograph of Winston Churchill
Figure 7 British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill giving the ‘V’ victory sign.

Activity 6

The rhythmic pattern which forms the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is not only an example of the social function of music, but also how rhythm can shape and characterise a musical work. The famous short-short-short-long rhythm can also be referred to as a motif as it can be traced throughout the whole symphony and helps to create its structure. Here’s another extract from the third movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – can you hear the rhythmic motif?

Active content not displayed. This content requires JavaScript to be enabled.
Audio 11: Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, Third movement, 15:49–16:19
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371