Rhythm – Pulse, Duration, Tempo & Beat


Rhythm is what makes the music move and flow.

Composers use different symbols to tell us how long we should play a note and are important for playing in time with other members of the orchestra.

Instructions: Watch the video, then click here for a game based on what you learned!

There are 5 main types of symbols that tell us how long to hold a note:

  • Whole Note (4 beats in 4/4 time)
  • Half Note (2 beats in 4/4 time)
  • Quarter Note (1 beat in 4/4 time)
  • Eighth Note (½ beat in 4/4 time)
  • Sixteenth Note (¼ beat in 4/4 time)

Measures are separated by a line in between the top and bottom line on the staff, called a barline.

The top number of the time signature tells us how many beats there are in a measure. When the top number is 4, there are 4 beats in a measure.

The bottom number of the time signature tells us which unit of measurement gets one beat. When the bottom number is 4, a quarter note gets one beat.


Tempo tells us how fast or slow a piece of music goes.

Tempo is how fast we are supposed to play a piece of music. It is measured in beats per minute (BPM). Therefore, 60 BPM is equal to one second.

Watch the video for an explantation by Columbus Symphony Principal Flutist Niles Watson.

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