It is intriguing to realize how our understanding of music from the musicological context changes or expands in music therapy. Rhythm was the utmost important component in music when I learned it in the early school education and it still remains as the most profound musical component in therapeutic use of music. I had a moment to examine the definition of rhythm and how the definition expanded with time and through its application. I would like to discuss the multi-dimensional attributes of rhythm, formulating more integrated definition of rhythm. In the early stage of music education, rhythm is learned based on its acoustical attributes; however, it slowly builds up to other layers of attributes.
Firstly, I’d like to point out the acoustic aspect of rhythm, which is the vibration and resonance of the beat. Because the beats should be sounded and be heard in order to learn about rhythm, resonance of a beat is a crucial component. I remember having fun tapping the rhythmic notations of different length of the sound. These rhythmic notations are important since they allow us to visually process and understand what is acoustically presented.
Secondly, I’d like to mention temporal and spatial attributes of rhythm added on to the acoustic attribute. With its acoustic attributes, sounding beats are arranged in temporal sequence with the space between the beats. Beats are arranged in time but what is also important is to understand what happens between the beats. If I were to borrow Thaut's terminology which are ‘phase’ and ‘period’, these two would correspond to temporal event (phase) and duration (period). In other words, the timing would correspond to ‘phase’, defined as "the response event” (Thaut, 2005. p.142), whereas space would correspond to ‘period’ which is ‘stimulus duration’ of the response event. These concepts are important because it reminds us that what happens in between beats are also as meaningful as the timing of the beat.
Third, I’d like to mention the relational attribute of rhythm. Rhythm also holds proportional relationship among the beats. I learned this concept during my primary education in a very simple way, but later realized how this concept holds such significance. When I learned it, apples were drawn on the board: One whole apple corresponded to a quarter note, half an apple to an eighth note, quarter apple to a sixteenth note. This subjective proportional relationship was explained with the concept of fraction in mathematics. This showed that the concurrent beats had proportional relationship among each other. I think this is manifested in the organic relationship among the components of rhythmic ground (pulse, subdivisions, and meter) and rhythmic figure (accents, syncopations, etc) (Bruscia, 1987). One component is built up on top of the other in such a proportional relationship. In all pieces of music, rhythmic ground and figure components exist, but it is matter of what is more audible than the other.
Fourth, I want to add another aspect in redefining the rhythm, which is kinesthetic attribute. In some countries, rhythm is taught differently. For example, In Korean traditional music education, they teach the concept of rhythm with movement, rather than counting the beat in numbers. This is quite different from the western music education method where rhythm is learned with metric figure (metronome) or mathematical counting. In Korean traditional music, because rhythm is composed of sound which holds energy, it is essential to express rhythm with body or bodily motion. In other words, rhythm is learned with embodied rhythm, and what rhythm tells is what body tells.
Also sounded beats and rests are equally important in Korean traditional music. Each note has its own significance and rest conveys silence. These unsounded and sounded resonances represent what needs to be 'taken in' and 'taken out' for the body. Taking-out refers to what needs to be externalized, sounded, ventilated, whereas taking-in refers to checking-in, engaging, and identifying what needs to be sounded.
Rhythmicity of these two activities is crucial, and it is the body that operates and communicates through sound. The rhythmic behavior of player who is engaged in taking-in and taking-out is important. It is motion-based emotive behavior, rather than a simple sound producing behavior. I think this concept is also essential in music therapy. When we hear the client's playing, we need to read into the client’s energy, pacing, impulse level, expressivity manifested in the rhythmic language.
Just rhythm alone can be such a profound element in music and music therapy. With the development of music therapy as its own unique professional and academic field, musical terms should be redefined in the context of music therapy other than its musicological definition. Since music therapy is a human-oriented approach, multi-dimensional aspects should be considered in the redefining work.
Bruscia, K. (1987). Improvisational assessment profile. In. K. Bruscia (Ed.) Improvisational models of music therapy. (pp. 401-498). PA: Barcelona Publisher.
Thaut, M. H. (2005). Rhythm, music, and the brain: Scientific foundations and clinical applications. New York: Routledge.
Chong, Hyun Ju (2012). Redefining Rhythm With the Multi-dimensional Attributes. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 11, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2012-redefining-rhythm-multi-dimensional-attributes