reprint: Binary Rhythm Pattern Indexing System from The Elements of Rhythm, Vols. 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)

2 thoughts on “reprint: Binary Rhythm Pattern Indexing System from The Elements of Rhythm, Vols. I

  1. chaparral andrew hodges August 24, 2015 / 8:26 pm

    Hi David
    I started applying Integer Notation to music in the early 1980s when I was working out all the possible permutations of musical notes within an octave, so it was natural that I would use a similar method when I started analysing rhythm in 1995. It seemed so obvious that 1 could represent a beat and 0 a rest, and from that any binary number would represent a different rhythm.

    I didn’t really pursue the rhythm side of things until I became fascinated with complex polyrhythms around 2004, at which point I wanted to know all the rhythms up to 16 beats long. There are over 131,000 rhythms of 16 beats or less but for my polyrhythm work I was only interested in rhythmically unique patterns so I count 1110, 1101, 1011, 0111, 11101110, 11011101 – etc, 111011101110, 110111011101 – etc, 1110111011101110 – etc, and even 10101000, 100100100000,1000100010000000 as the same rhythm – basically three beats and a rest which are allowed to start on any beat. By removing all the duplicate rhythms from the 131,000 rhythms of 16 beats or less I can use a list of 8,712 named patterns and still play any of the 131,000 by starting from any beat in a pattern.

    I really appreciate your indexing system as it nails every possible rhythm of any length. I have given names to all the shorter rhythms but if I wanted to name rhythms that were 17 beats long I would either have to invent another 8,712 names or combine shorter names into longer ones which could get confusing. Also your system allows one to work out the rhythm from a binary table whereas mine requires my rhythm dictionary or database. (My names are possibly better for naming polyrhythms as names are more memorable than numbers – Djeb Geera is more distinct than pattern 3.7 played against pattern 4.15).

    For too long I have heard musicians discussing rhythm without the benefit of a decent system of definitions, and all too often they are not even talking about the same rhythm, only slightly similar rhythms. I believe that your system should be accepted by musicologists as it is in a form that they will understand and appreciate. Whilst I am not a proper drummer and do not regularly practice your exercises, I have, and do recommend your book to drum students that pass my way.

    Thank you for your excellent blogs.

    • David Aldridge September 10, 2015 / 11:32 pm

      Andrew, thank you for the kind words. They are sincerely appreciated. My hope is that we as drummers can move our studies forward by understanding the deepest simplicities and then taking them far beyond.

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