October 4, 2023

About the Author: Sonja Joubert

Sonja Joubert is a master pianist classically trained by the late master Mr Josias Van Der Merwe and the late Adolph Hallis. She is also an excellent piano teacher with over 40 years of teaching experience specialising in both jazz and classical piano.

All music has what is commonly known as rhythm and beat.

Beat and rhythm are two distinct concepts, and one should not be confused with the other. Musicgateway states it as follows:

“Beat is the underlying pulse of a piece of music, while rhythm is the pattern of notes and accents that create the musical texture.”


In a big band, these concepts are sometimes nuanced by a specific section of the band, e.g., the rhythm section and the percussion, but all the instruments will be contributing to the beat and rhythm to a smaller or larger degree.

It is much more difficult to do so where there is only one solo instrument like the piano, but not nearly so difficult as where there is a solo instrument like a flute which can only play a single line.

Piano with music sheet
The piano has been described as a whole band in micro-form as you have ten fingers and 88 keys! One can play the instrument as if you are the whole band! This is also the reason why the piano is often more difficult to study as it has the possibility of playing many lines or melodies as well keeping the beat and the rhythm going at the same time.

If you have a look at the internet, it is interesting to note the amount of tutorial material that is offered to assist pianists in attaining a good rhythm and beat and how to convey the rhythm and beat in your piano playing. In the case of the piano, you use the variables of your finger playing to convey the rhythm and the beat simultaneously.

Every piece of piano music has a steady flowing ‘Beat’ to it. Without a steady beat in your playing, it will always sound a bit strange and not flowing. To be able to flow with the beat is crucial as it’s the only way the listener will be able to enjoy your playing. The trick is learning how to connect with that main beat and play the notes in harmony with that beat. It’s most important to be able to hear and listen to your playing in order to do that.


Let’s look at a few basics.

Note duration is not to be confused with the beat or the tempo of the music.

The time signature tells us how many beats to count in each measure. The time signature is located at the beginning of a piece of your music score. It is usually two numbers, one on top of the other. The top number tells you how many beats to count in each measure, and the bottom number tells you what kind of beat is used. This is used for reading, transcribing, or writing music on paper. For those playing by ear, knowing what beat is being used is not really necessary.

Five basic types of note durations.

There are 5 basic types of note durations that you will learn in learning to read or play music: semibreves, minims, crotches, quavers and semi-quavers. Or whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, and sixteenth notes in the US. These different types of notes can be used and combined in any way, as long as they equal the amount of beats you need in a measure as specified by the time signature.

Black metronome is used by musician to help keep steady tempo
What is the beat in the music?

The beat is the pulse of your music. The beat gives the big picture and provides the steady impulse of notes as a structure for your whole piece. It’s like the heartbeat of your music piece. The beat should give a steady pulse right throughout your piece.

Let’s look at Tempo.

The tempo tells us how fast or slow to play these beats, and the note duration tells us how long or short each note is to be played.

What are measures?

Measures can also be called bars. Your written score will be divided into small steady segments or bars or measures in which the music notation is written. Each segment will carry a certain amount of beats. It depends on what the composer intended, whether three beats per measure or four, for example. Measures group the notes into small segments which makes it easier to understand, play, and practise.

The time signature:

The time signature tells us how many beats will be played in a measure and to which type of note the beats relate.

The rhythm

The rhythm of the music is the rhythmic application of these variables by a skilful player. The rhythm gives a specific feel to your piece you are playing and is not just counting or playing exactly in time, but also interpreting how you play the set notes within the piece.

What is rhythm?

Rhythm is more about having the feel of a piece than the actual counting. The rhythm of a Blues song or a Jazz swing standard or a Rumba is quite different from a Chopin Mazurka or a Bach Fugue. It takes a lot of study and especially listening to make these different rhythms part of your playing, but it’s well worth it and satisfying to conquer eventually!

Let’s get back to the steady beat within your music.

Ideal would be to learn to feel the beat of any type of music. It has to become second nature to you. If you can feel the beat in music without playing an instrument, you should be able to feel the beat whilst playing an instrument.

People listening to music together on headphones
All people can feel beat.

Go to any dance room and you will see how all people have a natural feel for a beat. It is in you and only needs to be brought out. To be able to play an instrument and feel the beat simultaneously, takes a bit of practice but with a bit of patience and also believing in the fact that you can, you will soon find it easy to keep the beat and even to play the rhythms you always wanted to play.

Practice those rhythms and beats!

Keeping the beat and playing great rhythms might take quite a bit of practice and time, but keep at it and you will soon conquer and enjoy your music more than ever before. Imagine being able to really play that Swing or that Rumba or that Impromptu or Mazurka with the right feel and beat! Bravo!

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