Musical Meter 2
Summary of What is Known about Meter
- The input is segregated into streams.
- Elements are organized into rhythmic groups, usually of 2, 3, or 4.
- The grouping may be hierarchical.
- Grouping can be induced by many different variables:
intensity, duration, pitch, timing, etc.
These work together to favor particular groupings.
They may reinforce or compete with each other.
A Theory of Musical Rhythm (Lerdahl and Jackendoff, Povel and Essens)
- Rhythmic organization consists of two separate hierarchies
- Meter hierarchy: relative strengths of beats
- Grouping hierarchy: organization of beats into phrases
- There are many possible ways to assign meter and grouping
to a pattern. A theory should constrain the set to
those which people pick.
- Two kinds of rules to constrain the choices
- Well-formedness rules: specify legitimate shape for hierarchies
- Preference rules: specify tendencies of the listener
- Well-formedness rules
- At each level of the hierarchy, beats are equally spaced
- Beats at each level are synchronized with beats at lower levels
- Beats at each level are equally strong
- Relative strength of an event is derived from the number of
levels at which beats appear for that event
- Only adjacent elements may form groups
- An element may be in only one group on a given level
- Group boundaries do not cross the boundaries of groups at lower
- Preference rules
- A strong beat should not occur on a rest
- Within each run of adjacent elements, a strong beat occurs
on the first or last element
- Strong beats occur in the same places in repeating phrases
- Strong beats occur every two or three beats
- Strong beats occur on more intense or longer elements
- Strong beats occur at the beginning of changes
of various kinds
- Place elements in equal-sized groups
- Avoid groups of one or two elements
- Elements close to each other tend to be grouped together
- More intense or longer elements partition elements into groups
- Elements are partitioned by changes of various kinds
- Elements within groups are similar to one another
- Relations between successive
elements in groups are similar to one another
- Corresponding elements in successive groups are similar to
- Corresponding inter-element relations in successive groups
are similar to one another
- Interaction of meter and grouping hierarchies
- Meter and grouping hierarchies may reinforce each other
(tend to place boundaries in the same places)
or conflict with each other (tend to place boundaries in different places)
- Rhythm (in this theory) results from the complex interaction
of meter and grouping constraints
Take me back to the Rhythm and Cognition
Last updated: 12 October 1995
Copyright 1995, The Trustees of