RHYTHM, though readily definable as "the legs of music," amounts to something much subtler than many people conceive. The basic life of music depends on it, and the root principle of all structure is in it--Variety in Unity. It comprehends the placing of note over against note--short or long, or in any combination--of phrase over against phrase, sentence with sentence, until the whole piece is complete. Many people can keep time, but fewer have rhythm. If, for instance, the time be swayed, hurrying a trifle here, slowing up a shade there, that swaying can be done rhythmically or unrhythmically. The mere correct valuing of the composer's notes does not make good rhythm. A great deal of style in this element consists of subtly varying stresses. The commonest thing one has to tell a not very experienced choir, in adjudicating at a competition festival, is that it sings "square-toedly," beating out its 1, 2, 3, or 1, 2, 3, 4, in too evenly stressed steps. In a bar of four beats, for instance, the first beat should have the main stress, the third the next, slighter, stress, No. 2 and No. 4 having very little; 2, normally, a shade more than 4. But this is only one bar. The next bar, with its similar general proportions, must be balanced against bar 1; and that may mean giving it, as a whole, a lighter or heavier stress than No. 1; generally, lighter. Then bars 3 and 4 have to be considered, each first as a little entity of four members (beats), and then as over against the other bar; and then the four bars must be balanced as a phrase or sentence. Similarly the next phrase or sentence must be considered; then the two together; and so on throughout the piece.
Now, all this careful and happy toil is not usually envisaged by the layman; but anyone who thinks that the average person can
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Publication information: Book title: A Musical Companion:A Guide to the Understanding and Enjoyment of Music. Contributors: John Erskine - Editor. Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1935. Page number: 19.
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