blog aboutnewsmusicpoetrytypepurchasecontact



A teacher here at Westminster decided that it would be a good idea to start defining really vague terms like "melody" and "rhythm" in class yesterday. This always bothers me, unless of course it is done for the sake of discussion.

In this case it was not done for the sake of discussion, but instead for the sake of the proselytization of the teacher's quasi-hippie philosophies. As each student struggled to articulate a definition for something about as vague as "consciousness," he interjected:

"Try this on for size: melody: a series of sounds and silences perceived as a unit."

"Ok," I think. "This is problematic for hundreds of reasons. I can't look at cute animals on my laptop anymore. I have to say something." As my classmates sheepishly nodded in approval, I raised my hand.

"Don't you think there should be more qualifiers here... like maybe pitches?"

"Um, well, that would exclude a lot of other cultures, Philip." (This is the man who said earlier, "everyone has music inside them, because we all have a heartbeat.")

"So, that would exclude...cultures that don't have melody in their musical traditions?" I thought to myself. I could tell this was going nowhere.

"How about rhythm?" He continued. This time a demonstration was in order. "Tap tap tap tap tap" on the table. "Is this a rhythm?"


"Nope, it's a pulse because there is no variability to it."

Bloody hell. He's serious. I couldn't even speak (anything that would have come out of my mouth at this point would have been something like "oh, so then four eighth-notes isn't a rhythm?" and would have probably forever destroyed my reputation with the man).

After that, he tried to define "syncopation," but I can't remember what he said.

So, I wonder what anyone else's definition of rhythm and melody might be. For melody, mine is something like "a linear series of individual pitches and silences perceived as a continuous unit." Rhythm is more difficult, but is something like "a pattern of temporal events which can be mentally entrained." Of course there are all kinds of other qualifiers like "musical context" etc. etc.

But the real problem here is trying to put labels on crazily plastic terms like melody and rhythm. I took an entire course on rhythm and meter, and we never really arrived at a definition. It just seems totally inappropriate, especially if you're a hippie.