Music Theory
Acoustic Composition
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Non-Cyclical Rhythms

Just like cyclical rhythms, non-cyclical rhythms are all around us in day to day life. Some everyday examples of non-cyclical rhythms include:

  • a passing car
  • speech
  • animal sounds

You’ll notice that these sounds can be characterized by a lack of clear repetition. Non-cyclical rhythms are rhythms that can’t be easily placed into a rhythmic pattern or meter. The vast majority of rhythms that one would encounter “in the wild” are cyclical. Below are some examples of both cyclical and non-cyclical rhythms.

This is a cyclical rhythm. Note that although there’s some variation between each measure, the rhythms all fit nicely and evenly into 4/4 time.
This is a non-cyclical rhythm. The total duration of this rhythm is 26 eighth notes. It would be possible to argue that this example is truly in 13/8 time, but, if it doesn’t sound cyclical, odds are it’s not.
Here’s the same example in 13/8 time. This is less than ideal because the subdivisions change in each measure. In a future lesson on rhythm we’ll discuss the concept of meter further.