Chapter 2 – Moving to Music (Meter)

Across cultures, music is often associated with movement. This movement ranges from elaborate dances to simple toe taps and head nods. When we move to music in this way, we are aligning bodily motions with events and processes we hear in the music. Of course, to accurately align our movements, we have to anticipate when these events and processes will happen. Regardless of music education, most people can do this to at least some extent.

Many cultures have also invented some kind of way for musicians to keep track of, coordinate, and communicate about time in music. These take different forms, including West African bell patterns, European time signatures, Indian talas, and more. Each of these is a complex, culturally-specific combination of innate bodily responses and invented concepts and systems.

We’ll eventually focus on time signatures, but first we’ll focus on paying attention to your body’s natural responses to music, and on making these responses more detailed. Starting here has two benefits. First, it focuses us on a skill that is widely applicable (though in different ways) across many musical cultures rather than starting right in with cultural specificity. Second, it can actually clarify aspects of time signatures if we start with something a little more intuitive.

The ways you’re inclined to move to music are, of course, already influenced by your cultural background. For example, maybe you have been brought up in a culture where public bodily motion is frowned upon, and you don’t feel comfortable with much more than a subtle head nod; or maybe you’ve been brought up in a culture where dance is embraced and it’s all you can do not to get up and groove when you hear certain music.

Whatever your background, that’s ok! Embrace it and refer back to it as we get into the terms and systems people use to talk about time in music.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:

  1. Identify whether there is a recurring temporal pattern in a piece of music
  2. Entrain to a beat in sounding music (equal or unequal)
  3. Identify a beat cycle (measure) in sounding music, including identifying where that cycle begins
  4. Entrain to simple or compound division of a beat
  5. Conduct standard measure/beat patterns
  6. Generate a metric framework (beat, measure, division) internally
  7. Identify appropriate metric frameworks and meter signs for sounding music
  8. Use conventional stylistic markers to identify conventional meters (popular music backbeat, waltz, etc.)
  9. Entrain to a hypermetric pattern using simple gestures


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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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