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

4.2 Rhythmic patterns and metre

Rhythm can characterise music in other ways, in addition to forming distinctive patterns of long and short notes. Rhythmic patterns might accentuate the pulse or metre, emphasising the natural stresses of the metre or disrupting them.

Activity 8

Listen to the two audio extracts and decide for each whether the rhythmic patterns sound with the metre or against it. Audio 4 has a metre with three beats, and Audio 12 has groupings of two beats and it may be helpful to know this information in advance.

Active content not displayed. This content requires JavaScript to be enabled.
Audio 4: Howard Goodall, The Lord is my Shepherd, 00:39–01:09
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
Active content not displayed. This content requires JavaScript to be enabled.
Audio 12: Buena Vista Social Club, Pueblo Nuevo, 04:19–04:49
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Audio 4 could be largely characterised as rhythmically even (particularly the succession of shorter notes), and moving with the metre. However, sometimes the longer notes disrupted the metre, as these sounded on beat three and were held through beat one. This added stress to the third beat (normally unstressed in a three beat grouping), while dampening the natural stress of the first beat (normally stressed). This adds interest to the hymn, since the notes would otherwise move evenly with the metre.

A photograph of street musicians in Havana
Figure 9 Street musicians in Havana, Cuba

Audio 12 was characterised by the Latin rhythms of Cuban danzón. The rhythm of the music was uneven, and the musical notes often occurred off the beat, or syncopated, which characterised the music as exciting, unpredictable and with movement. The distinctive rhythmic pattern repeated in the accompaniment (most noticeably heard on the piano) enabled the music to be danced to, while the trumpet melody added to the syncopated rhythm, giving the music an edgy quality.


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