Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy (Robert Jourdain)
Chapter 5: Rhythm

  • Meter vs. Phrasing
  • Phrasing is a higher-level unit 0f perception than meter, and encompasses harmonic tension, contour, and dynamics
  • Pulse lies at the core of meter
  • Perception of meter is based on prime numbers
  • Polyrhythms are made by playing more than one meter at a time
  • Syncopation is created when beats are accentuated apart from the regular metrical pattern; often the offbeats are regular enough to anticipate
  • Memory vs. Anticipation
  • Memory recalls what has already happened, anticipation draws on memory to predict notes to come (usually only a beat or two in the future)
  • Importance of tempo: if music moves too slowly, the relations are not close enough to be intelligible; if music moves too quickly, the brain cannot keep up with the relation modeling and has to move to shallower relations, missing the nuances of the piece
  • Music needs some gradual changes in tempo; sounds unnatural without them
  • Harmonic complexity vs. Metrical Complexity have an inverse relationship
  • Most listeners and composers alike now opt for harmonic complexity since harmony information is parallel, while metric information is serial, thus more harmony information can be modeled in a shorter time
  • "Memory is music's canvas"
  • "In music, it is phrasing that reaches farthest across time to encompass the deepest relations"
  • "Composers gain maximum effect by interweaving the tensions created by music's various aspects"
  • "Tempo matters because the mechanics of music perception are exceedingly sensitive to the rate at which musical structures are presented to the brain"
  • "Most tempo fluctuations are made intentionally. Music just doesn't sound right without them"
  • "The more harmony wanders from its tonal center, the more it requires rhythmic buttressing"