A Rhythmic Primer

A Rhythmic Primer


When we organise sounds with silence we have the beginnings of rhythm.

The nature of the spaces between the sounds will determine a regular rhythm or something we would describe as arrhythmic. Something that we describe as rhythmic would have a certain degree of predictability about it, it wouldn’t feel unexpected as it unfolded.

Sounds played with a recognisable periodicity create a cycle that feels balanced and a movement that engages us into a groove. Rhythm played in this way is infectious and satisfying.

Our connection to rhythm comes from our physiology. We move and function through a series of balanced actions that flow and cycle in regular rhythms. From our heartbeat and our breathing to the way we walk and move. Our arms and legs swing with balanced motion and we can create changes in pace through rhythmic shifts.

When we are healthy and well we are harmonically rhythmic beings.

Just imagine how unpredictable our existence would be if our organs and muscles worked in an uncoordinated almost random fashion as they functioned. Life would be a struggle to say the least.

The world around us is a rhythmic symphony. On a subatomic level everything vibrates at its own rate. This vibration is rhythm and the universe vibrates in rhythmic harmony.

On a wider level the tides, moons, seasons, and sunsets follows a balanced set of cycles. We may have labelled them with our own classes of measurement but by their nature they follow broad rhythmic patterns. The universe is polyrhythmic.

The rhythms around us and within us affect us in three important ways:

Physiologically – As the rhythms within your body change you experience the physiological effects of that change. An increase in heart rhythm will trigger a series of corresponding change to breathing rate and other organic cycles as they change with it.

Psychologically – The brain generates its own rhythmic patterns of activity as brain waves. Typically grouped into four classes: Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta they correspond to different levels of brain activity from high to low. By immersing yourself in a particular rhythmic stimulus it is possible to change your brain state as the wave cycles shift to match the stimulus. This is how many relaxation audio programmes work.

Behaviourally – From the rhythmic lulling of a baby to the aggressive drums of war rhythm can cause us to alter our behaviour patterns. Equally powerful are the trance rhythms of the shaman which can shift our state of consciousness and awareness.

We can explain the power of rhythm through a phenomenon known as entrainment. If you take some time to observe couples walking through a park or city centre you will see its effect.  As people walk side by side you will notice that their steps fall into a synchronous rhythm.

It’s difficult to walk next to someone and pace with a different rhythmic cycle.

Entrainment happens when two rhythmic events are close to each other, there is a coming together and a matching of rhythms or vibrations. It is the nature of harmonic rhythm and explains how easy it is to get absorbed by rhythms and grooves. As an audience we can feel the pull of the time and entrain to it.

By creating specific rhythms to lower brain waves and physical rhythmic rates we can use rhythmic entrainment as a therapeutic tool to entrain a more relaxed state into the mind and body of the listening audience.

We can use rhythm to create harmony and to create relaxed and effective states of being in ourselves, in others and in the world.

The Power Of Playing With Truth

The Power Of Playing With Truth

One day travelling back from a trip into Camden, I headed for the tube and heard the familiar sound of djembe drummers on the street. I live in London and street performers, in particular street drummers, are a fairly common theme once you get past 9 O’ Clock or so.

I’ve played African drums for many years but stopped to look across the street. There was something different about that rhythm.

I looked across and saw that quite a crowd was gathering. Admittedly, Camden attracts new visitors all of the time, so some observers may have never seen djembe drumming outside HSBC before. But something felt different.

More alive.

I’ve seen plenty of decent drummers and without a doubt, these guys were really good. Even so, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why the grooves felt so attractive, more so than the many drum performances you will see on the streets of London in any given month.

The time was crisp and sharp The tempo brisk and the rhythms played tightly. There were three drummers in all, each with a different sized drum. The two djembe were supported by a djun djun player, the bass drum of the African drum orchestra.

The interlocking melodies from their drums created a glorious grooving tapestry. But this wasn’t a new groove they had invented or some cutting edge rhythmic interpretation. This was African drumming with a traditional intent. Played with heart and spirit.

I noticed that each of the drummers were smiling. Continuously. Their rhythms were shaping an appreciative crowd around them and the intoxicating beats were creating a joy in everyone experiencing them.

I crossed the road to trade a closer look.

As I moved closer it was clear how loud they played. The drums crashed into your senses like cold stormy waves. Metal discs and shells strung to the drums added a percussive jangling on top of their tones. The music moved yet stayed static. It breathed on fire like a lion sprinting across a plain. Beauty, raw power and energy.

I looked around and noticed that people were smiling and laughing. We were at a party. On the street outside the bank we shared unexpected joy in our day. It was hard to pull away, the rhythm seemed to hold onto you. Although it repeated in cycles you felt like if you stepped away you would miss something. It was feeding me and I didn’t want to end that.

Eventually, pressed by time of another urgency I dropped a pound coin into a bowl next to them and moved towards the tube still listening to the rhythms and wondering what that experience had meant but knowing just how powerful rhythm when played with truth.