What Is Rhythm & Meter in Music?

By Joel Pratt ; Updated September 15, 2017
Rhythm and meter are distinct but related musical concepts.

Rhythm and meter are terms used to relate music to time. You can become a better musician if you know how to distinguish the two terms and how they relate to each other.

Meter

Meter refers to the organization of time in music. A time signature defines the meter of a piece of music.

Time Signatures

Time signatures are useful for reading music.

A time signature can be found at the beginning of a piece of music; you use a time signature to understand the rhythmic structure of a song. For example, a 4/4 time signature has four beats in every measure and gives a quarter note one beat.

Rhythm

Rhythm refers to the pattern of beats in music. Notes can be short or long, and the organization of these various note durations defines the rhythm of the piece.

Accents

When you can understand the rhythm and meter of a piece, you can emphasize certain notes to change the feel of a song. If you change the beats on which you accentuate a note, you can keep a song fresh and interesting.

Playing with Others

Rhythm and meter help your band sound great.

Rhythm and meter are especially important for collaborating musicians. Talk to your ensemble about paying attention to meter and listening to rhythm. When everyone can hear the groove of the song, everyone will sound better.

About the Author

Based in Colorado Springs, Joel Pratt has been writing for online publications since 2004. Pratt earned his Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Colorado. He works as a paralegal and youth group director.