Timing and Rhythm in Music

Katie Ronsivalle

Attentiveness to timing is arguably one of the most integral aspects of drumming. I am fascinated by the seemingly limitless number of ways one can shift timing to produce a completely different “feel,” whether one is playing a particular style of music, a specific song, or even a few notes in a single measure that differs in an unexpected way from the reliably consistent pulse holding a song together.

To play the bodhran, an Irish percussion instrument, the basic rhythm that continues throughout the song is a “triplet” which is what is sounds like- a “ONE-two-three ONE-two-three” cyclic, pattern. There can be variations; sometimes extra hits are thrown in an instant before or after one of the three main hits, or rolls, or slight changes in speed; but one always returns to the same constant, circular, gently swinging rhythm.

A different effect is produced by the timing of the drums in Scottish bagpipe and drum music; there is still a partial lilting, almost relaxed feel that comes from the “off-beat” hits, which is caused by slight hesitations in the middle of a measure. However, each hit on the beat is usually staccato, (more clipped,) and the sharp sound of these notes which terminates the even buzz of the rolls gives a sense of finality after every interval of a few seconds.

If measure after measure played on the bodhran could be drawn on a timeline, it would look like a continually looping line; in contrast, measures played in a Scottish band would appear more like squares placed adjacent to each other and spaced evenly apart. Each of these rhythms is so distinctive and specific to its respective style of music that if I played a typical bodhran rhythm on a drum set, or even a ‘pipe and drum music rhythm on a triangle, one would be able to identify the style that it corresponds to.