Feeling Meter Internally

Now that we’ve built a framework for understanding and feeling the experience of timekeeping in music, it’s helpful to practice creating this experience yourself. We’ll start by deciding on a tempo and meter type, and then use physical motion to start “feeling” it even in the absence of actual sounding music. As you get more and more comfortable with this, we’ll work to see how we might “feel” the meter internally by imagining those same actions.

Setting up an internal sense of meter without externally sounding music in this way is often a useful preparatory step for making music. When you’re leading an ensemble, feeling the meter internally will help you get the group off to a solid and coordinated start. When you’re reading notated music, the constructing this internal sense helps you make sure that you are ready to match the “correct” sense of time indicated in the music. And when you’re listening, internalized models of what different meters feel like will give you something internal to compare to what you hear in the music to see how they match up (or not).

Here’s the process in full:

We’ll continue to practice building our internal sense of meter in future chapters on rhythmic cells, sight-reading skills, and improvisation skills, and whenever we do, we’ll re-embed these instructions.

Activity: Setting Up a Meter Internally

Goal: Use physical motion or imagined physical motion to “feel” a meter without sounding music.

Instructions: Decide on a meter (duple, triple, or quadruple and simple, compound, or swung) and, optionally, a tempo/speed. Then work through the steps in the text above to feel this meter internally. It may be helpful at first to use the suggested physical motions, but as you get more comfortable, see if you can feel them internally.

Activity: Communicating your sense of meter through improvisation

Goal: Develop an understanding of how your internal sense of meter relates to sound.

Before you start: You are encouraged to use any instrument that is comfortable to you, including voice. Though it is not absolutely necessary, we encourage you to work with someone else so they can give you feedback about how clear your meter was (step 7).


  1. Choose a meter type or receive an assigned meter type: simple duple, simple triple, simple quadruple, compound duple, compound triple, or compound quadruple. Your goal is to come up with some music that clearly conveys this sense to a listener.
  2. Decide how long your rhythm will be; a length of 4–8 measures is often nice. Note that most melodies end on a relatively long note in that last measure.
  3. Decide whether you want to start with a pickup or on the downbeat.
  4. Decide how you want to make the downbeats clear. In melodies, downbeats are often marked with relatively longer notes or repeating rhythmic patterns that last about a measure.
  5. Consider how you will communicate the beat division. You don’t need to have a note on every beat division; just make sure that events happen on beat divisions at least some of the time.
  6. Perform your rhythm. (You may decide whether or not to use pitches as well.)
  7. Optional: ask a listener to identify the meter that you intend to convey, choosing from the list in step #1. Keep in mind that duple and quadruple meters are often aurally equivalent. If they do not hear what you intended, workshop with them on how you might more clearly convey the meter.


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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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