Rhythm as a point

(Varning: this blog post might contain content unsuitable for artists, music lovers and others. It includes some quite nerdy ideas related to music and research)

Last week I came across an extraordinary way of describing rhythm. When I first saw it I got a bit upset but when I suddenly realised what a beautiful way of describing a rhythm it is, I almost fell in love with it. OK. It’s got its limitations but as long as you stick to a three note rhythm, it will work beautifully.

The concept is as simple as it is genius. One way of understanding it is this:

Take this rhythm:

The relation between the three note lengths could be expressed

1 : 1 : 2

If we say that the total length of the notes is 100% we could also express the rhythm as

25% : 25% : 50%

Now, lets draw this rhythm using a triangle where the length of each side represents 100% of the total length of the rhythm:

In this way, we can actually represent any three note rhythm in this graph making it possible to study i.e. other divisions than our notation based systems of quarter notes, eight notes, sixteenth notes etc. It is also proven to be very useful when we want to study and visualise rhythmic perception and performance.

If you got all the way to this point and still think it’s interesting, please have a look at the article Structure and Interpretation of Rhythm and Timing where the Henkjan Honing, who designed the concept, describes it more thoroughly.