Cyclical, or repeating, rhythms are all around us both in music and in life. These repeating rhythms are important in creating a sense of expectation and arrival in a musical composition. To get a better grasp on the idea of cyclical rhythms let’s look at some non-musical examples:
As you can see these rhythms come in a variety of lengths and with a certain degree of variation. The sun doesn’t rise at the exact same time every morning, but it does always rise. Weather patterns can vary greatly from one year to the next, but, generally speaking, summer is hotter than winter. Ticking clocks and breathing tend to be so predictably periodic that most people can ignore them, but, perhaps because of this, a change in the pattern, say a sudden silence, becomes deafening.
Here are some examples of cyclical rhythms:
Notice that even though there’s some variation from one measure to the next, each example uses rhythms that easily fit into the meter. Cyclical rhythms don’t have to be strict repetitions so long as they are predictable and have a clear meter.
There are many musical lessons we could take from these examples. Here are some thoughts on rhythms that would be helpful to keep in mind when listening, performing, and composing: