Meter refers to the temporal pattern of sound across time, which usually repeats itself across the piece. Meter is completely intertwined with beat. Beat refers to spaced pulses that indicate if a piece is fast or slow. Thus, meter tells you how many beats occur per musical measure (the repeating temporal pattern), and beat tells you which notes to emphasize. In rock music, drums usually “keep the beat” by pulsing throughout each measure. In traditional classical music, instruments such as the double bass are responsible for keeping the beat. In most popular music, as well as in marches and many other styles of music, the meter is called 4/4, meaning that there are four beats per measure. In this meter, there is usually an emphasis, often indicated by relative loudness, on the first beat out of every four and a secondary emphasis on the third beat in each measure. Waltzes are played in 3/4 time, with the emphasis placed on the first beat out of every three in a measure. The characteristic feature of Jamaican reggae music is that instead of the first beat getting the emphasis in a 4/4 measure, the second and the fourth beats out of every four get the emphasis in each measure. If you hum the melody to such nearly universally known tunes as Bob Marley’s “Jammin,” you can feel the pulses on those second and fourth beats
Westerners typically find traditional Chinese music a bit odd because the notes do not map directly onto the notes in our scale, which we have become so accustomed to hearing. Some Western forms of music use pentatonic scales, but versions using the notes or pitches used in the equal-temperament scale system. These pentatonic traditions include Celtic folk music, some forms of West African music, and the American blues tradition. The five-note tradition makes improvisation, a hallmark of both Celtic music and American blues, easier.
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Listen to the Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II and feel the 3/4 beat to the music. Count along.
Listen to the second movement of Beethoven's Symphony #7 and feel the 4/4 rhythm. Count along.
Listen to Jammin by Bob Marley and feel the 4/4 rhythm. Try to notice how the second and fourth beats get a stronger pulse. Count along.