Making Music with Marshall

Beats, Tempo, Rhythm and Bars

Posted: 29 October 2019

You’ve bought your instrument. Now you need to learn how to play it.

The importance of music theory will waver depending on who you speak to. Some say you don’t need it and to trust your ears whilst others will disagree and put theory up on a pedestal. Your ears may get you so far but it’s also well worth learning what has been proven to work.

In this series, we’ll be breaking down the basics of music theory to help you gain a better understanding of music and improve your writing, starting with beats, tempo, rhythm and bars. Going forward, do keep in mind that music theory is essentially a guide. It doesn’t hurt to break away from theory from time to time and get creative. Sometimes you need to trust yourself. If it sounds good to your ear, go for it.

Read time - 3 mins


A beat if defined as ‘a regular, repeating pulse that underlies a musical pattern.’ We have one running inside of us right now, our heartbeat. It is the basic measurement of time. When listening to music, people tap their foot in time with the beat and musicians count this measurement when performing their tracks. Beat does have other definitions in music, such as ‘a pattern or rhythm played by drums’ however for this article, we will focus on the first definition. Beat can often get confused for tempo however the two are fundamentally different.


Tempo is the unit of measure for beats. For example: 120BPM is the tempo and the tempo is measured as having 120 beats within a minute. Think of it as the speed of that music is played at.


Rhythm is ‘the placement of sounds in time, in a regular and repeated pattern.’ Whereas tempo is the measurement of the speed of the song. Rhythm is the ordered pattern of contrasting elements. Think back to the heartbeat analogy we made earlier. In this context, the time of your heartbeat is your tempo and the ‘duh-dum-duh-dum’ sound that it produces is the rhythm. It is music’s pattern in time and is the one indispensable element of music. Rhythm can exist without melody, take a drum beat for example, but melody cannot exist without rhythm. 

Bars/ Time signatures

Defined by Mighty Expert: ‘a bar is one small segment of music that holds a number of beats. Multiple beats make up a bar and multiple bars make up a song.'

The number of beats in a bar is wholly dependent on the time signature of the song you are writing. A time is a universal unit of measurement that details the amount of beats that are contained in a bar. Lets take the most popular time signature of all time, one that everyone knows: 4/4. The first number indicates the number of beats to count per bar, in this case it’s four, and the second number tells you what kind of note you need to be counting, which is a quarter note for this example. Other popular time signatures would be 3/4 in which there are three beats in a bar and 6/8 in which there are six eighth beats in a bar.

Notice how the last number is different? That means that the length of the note counted is half of that in 4/4 or 3/4. That’s probably quite confusing to get your head around right? If so, take a listen to the sound clips below:

Time Signature Counting



In case you're still not too sure. We've included some real life examples of songs written in 4/4, 3/4, and 6/8

Shotgun - George Ezra (4/4)
Sia - Cheap Thrills (4/4)
Led Zeppelin - Kashmir (3/4)
Bob Dylan - The Times They Are A-Changin' (3/4)
Queen - We are the champions (6/8)
Metallica - Nothing Else Matters (6/8)