What is a Beat?
A beat is the basic pulse in music, like what you might tap your foot to. Beats are grouped into measures, with the same number of beats in each measure.
Measures are discussed in more detail here.
Meter & Rhythm
Notice that in the sound example below you can feel the beat or “pulse” of the music. Try playing the clip below and counting ’1 2 3 4′ with each bass (kick) drum note.
In music, meter is expressed by a division of a measure into beats, and a further division of beats into “subbeats”. Most music today is in 4/4 meter (also called 4/4 time), which means there are four beats within each measure.
Each of these four beats can be subdivided into four subbeats each, which we call sixteenth-notes. Thus a measure of music in 4/4 time contains 16 sixteenth-notes (4 beats x 4 subbeats each). A sixteenth-note is the smallest (fastest) unit of time that we will be working with in this section.
In the diagram below, the two long vertical lines on either side of the diagram correspond to the boundaries of a single measure of 4/4.
The lowest level of short vertical lines mark the location of each sixteenth-note subbeat within one measure of 4/4 time. There are sixteen of these locations in the bar. Moving up the diagram, we see that a quarter-note (a beat) is four times the length of a sixteenth-note. Four quarter notes make up the length of the whole measure, just as 16 sixteenth-notes do.
We can think of the sixteenth-note subbeats in the bottom row of the diagram as a grid that marks every possible location where an EarSketch sound clip can be started, when using this beat-based approach.
Listen to the audio example below. Can you hear the 16th note sounds (shaker / hihat sound)? This example plays exactly as the diagram above depicts, with the cowbell sound occurring on the downbeat (beginning of a measure), the bass (kick) drums occurring on the beats (quarter-notes), and shaker (hihat) sound occurring on the subbeats (sixteenth-notes). Take some time to listen to this example and identify these three sounds and where they occur.