There are 2 types of meter. Simple and Compound. The songs and examples listed above are Simple Time. When each basic pulse is divided into 3 ( an odd number ), you get Compound Time. An example of this is "House of the Risin' Sun."
In Simple Time, these basic pulses are also subdivided. But it's into 2 or 4( even numbers).
One more consideration is whether the pulse is "straight" time or "swing" feel. Most traditional folk music and classical is "straight". Again, tick tock like a clock. Hip Hop is a "swung" 16th note feel. This means the pulses are divided into 4 and are loose and uneven. Another common groove is called a Shuffle. This is a swung 1/8th note feel. The nitty gritty explanation of this is beyond the scope of this article. Don't worry. Just play. And count out loud! It'll come to you :-)
Rhythm is a layer superimposed on top of the meter. It's not an even pulse. The even pulse is the "canvas." Think of the word Mississippi. The word has a rhythm. The accent is on the 3rd syllable. It's painted on a Simple Meter.
Oh yes! I almost forgot. Many songs do not start on beat 1. There's a pick-up or "anacrusis." With "Happy Birthday" it's the word "happy."
Still confused or overwhelmed? Don't try so hard to figure it out. The best way to get this information is to listen to music and try to find the pulse. Tap it with your hands or feet. Count out loud. Don't worry if you're wrong or right. Just do it. If you play an instrument make it a habit to count out loud when learning new songs. And ask yourself if the song is in Simple or Compound Time. If Simple, is it in 2 or 3? Are the subdivided beats in 2 or 4? That's it!
OK. So you came to this page expecting to learn some kind of secret formula ;-) There are certainly some more areas of misunderstanding in music theory that I could be writing about. But for now, I chose rhythm and timing because it's confusing for so many people. Even professional musicians. They just happen to be in the category of lucky individuals who do it intuitively. Rhythm and meter are the most basic of music theory basics!
Thanks for tuning up. I hope this article on music theory basics has helped you see the forest for the trees with rhythm and timing. All the best,
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