Structure of Time/Unknown Container


What will you find here ? We are attempting here
(a) to demonstrate how abstract Rhythm is and how difficult it is to present it, and
(b) to show how little is known of Rhythm, even today.
This is essentially a socio-historic-philosophical plea for the importance of rhythmic structure
and for the respect it deserves.
Fairly heavy stuff - don't expect a rose garden.


Rhythm is essentially an empty container, in which the other elements of Music, Harmony and Melody, will be placed. This could be compared to placing furniture in a building, pouring wine in bottles, placing books on a shelf, ... Rhythm is an very abstract subject, because it can neither be seen nor even heard, and content, like Melody, must be placed within it so that its shape can be felt. Of Music's principal components, Rhythm is the most difficult and delicate to present and explain. And yet, it is the very foundation from which, and in which, Music grows.

A word of caution -
One should not confuse "Rhythm" with "Percussion" -
Percussion is not a container but a content,
a very specific form of melodic content,
occasionally limited to only one pitch,
which finds its place within a rhythmic container, like any other content.

It should not, under these circumstances, come as a surprise that Rhythm is also the least understood Music component. It is quite unexpected, however, to discover to what extent Rhythm is unknown, not only to musicians in general, not only to the specialists of Music Theory, not only to the specialists of Rhythm itself, but even to our most revered and capable composers. For example, limiting ourselves here to a specific aspect of Rhythm: the use of Bars (measures) and Bar-lines, which are otherwise clearly and unequivocally defined and explained on this site, we can look and compare a few examples from published text-books (from which names of authors and works are omitted, so as to better keep the focus on the matter at hand rather than on personalities).

Bars and Bar-lines

There is much more to Rhythm than Bar-lines (and Bars)
but we wanted this presentation to be tightly focused
on something which was commonly misunderstood,
and not spread out over all that Rhythm has to offer.

Once we have established the Footsies of a song at ALL levels, we know that a Bar-line belongs just before each R(ight) foot strikes the ground, on the Beat. The Bar is then defined as what is found between 2 Bar-lines. Bars can therefore be of various lengths and still be perfectly valid, but Bar-lines cannot be placed anywhere, especially when the Bars are long. We will constantly be referring to Footsies as we offer solutions to the various problems facing the authors of these books.

Advice to novice composers:
If you are not sure of the placement of Bar-lines: write with short bars !
This will not give the performer(s) much information concerning the rhythmical structure,
but, at least, the information given will not be faulty.


We have chosen four examples from 3 books, respectively published in 1960, 1978, and 1995, which are presented in chronological order (almost 20 years between them). The examples are also in order of increasing complexity and pertinence, the first almost insignificant and the last possibly frightening. If you fear being overwhelmed, take them in order, but if you are both impatient and fearless, jump to the last one.


What do these examples illustrate ? First, we wanted to show that Rhythm is a container, in which melodic and harmonic materials are disposed, and that the content has a very tight association with its container, to the extent of "sounding quite different" when contained differently. We limited ourselves to a specific aspect of Rhythm, its Bar-lines and the Bars which they delimit. But, above all, we wanted to show how unknown the proper usage of these "container" Bar-lines is to EVERYONE : to the public, to performers, to theoreticians, even to the composers themselves. If we have made this point, the first step toward justifying the importance of spreading the knowledge of rhythmical structure will have been taken. The last example (of the Bach fugue) opens a veritable Pandora's Box, and we won't burden you with a list of obvious questions which can be quite painful to ask and even more painful to answer. Our deepest wish is to provoke the largest possible number of visitors into participating in the discovery of this new, important science. Let us know what you think.

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