Binary Rhythm Indexing System from The Elements of Rhythm, Vol. I

One of the key and unique components to The Elements of Rhythm series and its introduction of binary rhythm pattern theory is the way in which we classify and catalog the fundamental building block rhythm patterns. I recall showing the book draft to Peter Erskine several years ago, and one of the most important questions he could have asked me was, “What are you going to do with all of those 0/1 combination tables?” I told him I didn’t quite know yet but that I was sure there was an application that either myself or someone else would come up with.

Shortly after that conversation, I discovered some work by mathematician/musician Vi Hart, where she gave a presentation regarding a simple way to identify basic rhythm patterns using 0s and 1s. It seemed we were on a similar path, so I contacted her and asked how far she’d worked out her system. Vi replied that she had only down a little work, so I expanded on her idea and came up with the Binary Rhythm Pattern Indexing System.

The idea is that we can classify and catalog each of the fundamental building block rhythm patterns by their event point level grouping and the sequence in which they logically and naturally occur.

The Binary Rhythm Pattern Indexing System is important for several reasons. First and foremost, it doesn’t exist anywhere in music theory or rhythm research, at least not as far as I was able to find at the time I published The Elements of Rhythm in 2012. Secondly, it can be used by anyone who is interested in systematically researching rhythm patterns and wanting to somehow identify their fundamental essence.

It’s a system that’s in its infancy, waiting to be explored as a tool and modified as needed. For now, it can give you a basic idea of how to catalog and classify the basic patterns for up to eight event point levels (beat note groupings or beat note divisions). I hope it can prove to be of use in your work, and please feel free to submit comments on its use, application and improvement. My special thanks to Vi Hart for the inspiration to find meaning in the numbers. She’s amazing in that way, and I invite you to explore her own works further, at http://www.vihart.com

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(excerpts reprinted with permission from The Elements of Rhythm, Vol. I, Rollinson Publishing Co., 2012)

Reprint: Introducing the Elements of Rhythm, Vols. I & II

This blog was originally published on David Aldridge’s Drumming Blog, 11-14-2012…

How many rhythm patterns do you suppose there are?

Thousands, hundreds of thousands?

The list is infinite, but the number of patterns that make up the fundamental building blocks is finite.

I’ve spent the better part of three decades, on and off, working on a series of books that present the basic patterns and their logical evolution. I have greatly appreciated your readership of my blog, and I would now like to announce the official release of those books… The Elements of Rhythm Vols. I & II (Rollinson Publishing Co).

Many years ago, I took some drum lessons with Terry Bozzio when I was living in Los Angeles. He showed me a collection of simple 2/4 patterns and told me that they made up the basics of just about everything else I would ever see.

From there, I developed a list of 4/4 patterns as a sort of jazz drummer’s vocabulary list… and I expanded it significantly.

In the mid 1980’s, I met American music composer Lou Harrison and shared my list of patterns with him. He had written about a simple binary formula, 2n, that let you create basic silence and sound combinations. We had been working on the same thing in many ways, and he gave me a lot of suggestions as to where the book could go from there.

The level of detail became pretty intense, something much bigger than I had expected. It took many, many revisions to sort out all the information, but what I eventually came up was that the book and patterns formed the basis for something drummers (and all musicians, really) have never had: a rhythm pattern theory resource.

In Vol. II, I take the fundamental patterns and present them in multiple music lines. This lets you read a pattern in 4/2, 4/4, 4/8, 4/16 and 4/32, all stacked on top of each other. This shows that an identical-sounding rhythm pattern can be written many ways and still retain what I call its absolute sound shape. Vol. II also explores the many ways you can count a rhythm pattern, which helps de-condition you from always expecting certain note shapes to be counted certain ways.

Keyboard players can look at notes and see everything they will be working with. So can guitar players. But what do drummers have to look at? Where are the source of rhythm pattern origins? Where are our collection of basic shapes?

That’s what my books are really about. They give everyone a collection of the basic shapes that all the larger, more complex combinations come from.

The value of this list is that you can prepare your mind, your eyes, your ears, and your whole body with the fundamental movement possibilities. It’s not about sight-reading, however. It’s about preparing and programming yourself, completely, with nothing left out.

Several other authors have explored similar approaches using the basic patterns, to whom I give credit in Vol. I, but my approach goes somewhat further in terms of the different ways you can write a pattern. I use half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth and thirty-second rest/note values and create a very large collection of patterns that can be studied and mastered.

I’m going to be teaching seminars in the near future, demonstrating how drummers can use the patterns to explore odd meters, polyrhythms, and advanced improvisation methods. I hope you can take a few minutes and check out the website to see more about what I’ve created, and I truly hope that music teachers will find the materials useful for helping students gain a much broader perspective of how rhythm patterns logically evolve into an amazing structure. I also include teaching guidelines in the Appendices to help provide structure for this new approach to rhythm pattern study.

My dream is to travel the world eventually and share more insights, with both the music community and the music research community. There is so much to explore and so much to integrate… and we as drummers are truly the keepers of the temporal flame. If you’ll visit http://www.theElementsofRhythm.com, I hope you’ll see where the ignition for my passion comes from.