We’re probably all familiar with the sight of dozens of feet tapping in time to a march or dance number at a concert. But is rhythm the fundamental aspect of music? Music could be said to consist of pitch (how high or low a note sounds), beat (the steady pulse that ticks away in the background, like a metronome), rhythm (the varying pattern of a tune which we can copy by clapping it), harmony (the combination of notes sounded together with pleasing – or less pleasing – results) and timbre (recognisable differences in sound such as volume, different instruments, acoustics etc). Which one is the foremost?
It’s worth considering this: if I play you a tune with all the rhythm removed – in other words, all the pitches there but otherwise a long string of regular notes – you are unlikely to recognise it. But if I tap the rhythm of a well-known tune without any pitch you are more likely to get it. You can check that by clicking here.
We can discount the other elements – beat, harmony and timbre – as the key to recognising a piece. A metronome beat sounds like a metronome ticking, nothing more and nothing less. And a sequence of chords without a tune is unlikely to be instantly recognisable. And hearing an oboe or a french horn, a loud, quiet or echoing sound is unlikely to spark recognition either.
So the fascinating conclusion is that rhythm is the fundamental aspect of music, a fact rather backed up by these videos of a cockatoo and a baby feeling the groove! This is pure instinct at work. And instinct is implanted at birth. Which makes us then wonder: where does the universal love of music stem from? Nothing this complex could just arrive from nowhere…