Pure Rhythm


Excerpts from Pure Rhythm

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| Introduction | Three and Two | Twenty-one Beat Cycles | Purchase Pure Rhythm


In Your Own Music

There are as many rhythms in the world as there are stars in the sky. Every culture has dozens,if not thousands of rhythms related to dance and language. To these pulse beats and patterns, each person and musician brings his or her own sense of timing, breath and imagination. To be human is to embody this rhythmic infinity.

No single book could begin to touch the galaxy of rhythms playing out within and around us. My intention is to present the signal rhythm patterns, both traditional and newly created, through a method I call “Cyclic Verticalism.”

This book is for the instrumentalist, composer, percussionist, student and music educator who aims to expand his or her understanding of rhythm and overall musicianship. It is an
applied guide to the fundamentals of rhythm, presented step-by-step from the simple to the complex. Please approach it as a source for your own creative endeavors.

For an improviser, form is one of the most difficult elements to master. In order to understand form you must be able to generate phrasing. In order to phrase you must have a grasp of rhythm. The great improvisers we know – from Bach to Ornette Coleman and beyond – have been masters of rhythm. This book offers a repository of rhythms in a method unfettered by style. The aesthetic is open to you,the artist. Please utilize these ideas freely in your own way, in your own music.

Music is a temporal art, and rhythm is the world working through time. Thus rhythm is implicit in every musical gesture. Yet rhythm is often neglected in music lessons partly because it is difficult to render on the printed page.

In the case of Western “classical” musicians, this learning gap can limit the student to only being able to read rhythms but not to understand, feel or generate them. In the past few decades these players have had to perform scores demanding an improvisation, and many have also tried to extend their virtuosity into “jazz” and “folk” idioms. I consider the training in this book essential for these artists, and hope it will provide them with the rhythm training that will open the door to phrasing. Without the ability to phrase and to express one's ideas in time, even the virtuoso is creatively limited.

Improvising “jazz” musicians often learn to phrase by relying on chord changes and a “rhythm section” as a temporal guide, commonly with 32-bar or 12-bar forms. What happens when the improviser moves beyond those structures? Whether playing in an orchestra or jazz band, a musician must be able to generate ideas in real time with a clarity that defines where they are at every moment. Only then will their sonic ideas be heard in a way that inspires.

For percussionists today,great opportunities for first hand study and sharing of rhythm traditions abound. There are drummers from every part of the world living in every other part, sharing and sampling techniques. This makes it an exciting time. But how does one expand one's rhythm vocabulary and still maintain one's own musical identity? How does one apply this knowledge to one's own creative evolution? The answer is not only to simply gather and study rhythms, but also to understand rhythm's underlying structure and foundation.

Harmonically, Western “jazz” and “classical” artists have self-consciously sought to look at modal and intervallic materials in new ways, and replace the systems of the past. This book is
an offering to creative musicians who wish to move their rhythm conception forward. The method of Cyclic Verticalism is deliberately neutral so that an artist of any aesthetic bent may apply it to their own creative process as they wish. Composers and improvisers who have a command of the larger polymetric cycles can begin to move through rhythms with freedom. A 15- or 35-beat cycle becomes a big “one.” It becomes a single “breath” through which the musician can freely shape ideas, still know where he or she is in time and form, and communicate more expressively with other musicians. The larger cycles towards the end of this book define forms in which pitch and timbre can be applied in any orchestrated context.

A Note on the Notation

The Western European system of notating does not work to represent rhythm from most other music cultures. One reason is that many music cultures have designed their rhythms from another conceptual base. Western notation demands that one time signature be dominant. In parts of Africa, however, several meters are performed simultaneously without any one of them being dominant. To render that musical phenomenon through the European notation lens would misinterpret the true nature of the music. Notation of any kind seems almost unsuitable when knowledge is passed on though oral tradition.

In addition, in Western European music rhythm is notated in a system we could call divisive. That is, one whole note is divided into two half notes, four quarter notes, eight eighth notes and so on. Many Indian, Middle Eastern, and Eastern European rhythms are additive – units of twos and threes are combined to generate the rhythm cycles.

The notation system for this book is as true to the nature of the underlying patterns as any I could devise. It is based upon pulses that are accented or left unheard, to create various rhythm cycles and polymeters. Most of the patterns contained can be counted and, more importantly,“felt” in several ways, giving freedom to the individual to find their own feel, understanding and musical applications.

Cyclic Verticalism

Cyclic Verticalism is a system of thinking about rhythm that can be applied to any musical context. “Cyclic” refers to rhythm cycles. It is an additive concept of rhythm whereby rhythm cells of twos and threes (even and odd) are added together to build rhythm cycles of various lengths.

For example, 2 plus 3 yields a 5 beat cycle:

3 plus 2 plus 2 yields a 7 beat cycle:

“Verticalism” describes the musical element of polyrhythms. This is when two rhythms are stacked one on top of the other and played simultaneously. A rhythm cell of an even amount (2 or 4) sounding at the same time as a rhythm cell of an odd amount (3) creates polyrhythms that generate motion in sound. 3 against 2 is the fundamental polyrhythm:

3 against 2 (6 total pulses)

Cyclic Verticalism is my attempt to explore some of the possible combinations that arise
from the process of combining these cyclic (horizontal) and vertical (polymetric) elements. Additionally, some rhythms that I have been exposed to and feel attracted to are included herein. They are used as inspiration and a starting point from which I apply the concept of Cyclic Verticalism. The rhythms move from more simple to more complex.

Every rhythm is made of two elements: something odd and something even. 3 (odd) and 2 (even) are the fundamental building blocks from which all existing rhythms are created; from a most simple heartbeat pattern to the most abstract.

The Dogon people of Mali call the even (2) element “Tolo” and ascribe to it the female or yin energy. “Nya”is odd (3) or male,yang energy. They say: “Every rhythm has the two parts often with complex interplay that suggest both a dialogue and union of male and female principles.”

The Three Aspects of Rhythm

Rhythm has three manifestations: language, dance and mathematics. Language has to do with the relationship of spoken and sung word in a culture to rhythmic phrasing. An example is how the Yoruba language, which is tonal, is “spoken” on the Iyaor talking drum. Less obvious, but just as profound examples exist in the relationship of the spoken or sung word and instrumental music phraseology in all music. Language also refers to an actual drum language itself. In North and South Indian drumming, spoken syllables are used to teach the drum language. Every syllable that is spoken corresponds to a particular drum stroke. Some examples of these are found in this book.

Dance is the other source of rhythm. All drumming has its origins as a sonic manifestation of physical movement. There is no dance without music or music without dance. They are two art forms that can only be experienced temporally. Creative and cultural movements of humans are determinants of rhythmic phraseology. The meters of 9 and 11 beats used in Balkan or Greek music correlate to the steps of the dancers. The abstract sounding drumming that moves against the pulse in Indonesian Jaipong music is the drummer catching the gestures of the dancer.

Neither the language or dance aspects of rhythm can be notated or codified in a book. They must be learned through first hand experience.

This book is primarily concerned with the aspect of rhythm as mathematics. Mathematics allows the student or artist to look at the rhythm in a way that is transcendent of style or culture. Looking at pure elements allows the creative person to personalize and transform them. This is an essence of the creative process.The rhythms contained herein are presented as neutral elements that the performer or composer can utilize in whatever way they can imagine. They are like the bare bones or structure to which any musical language and aesthetic can be added. However, I urge all interested artists to also go as deeply as possible into whatever rhythm languages and dance forms they relate to. Oral tradition and experience are great educators. Imagination and feeling are indispensable to any creative inquiry.


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