Super Nerdy Book about Rhythm

OK, this is not for everybody (really hardly anyone I’d guess). But I got a really interesting book for Christmas called The Geometry of Musical Rhythm - What Makes a “Good” Rhythm Good? by Godfried Toussaint.

While not the only technique he uses, the most common analysis tool used is to illustrate rhythm patterns on a circle. For example, imagine a clock with 16 positions instead of 12 representing 1 measure of 4/4 with a 16th note pulse. Then if you marked the face at the top, right & bottom (12, 3 & 6 positions on a normal clock) that would indicate a pattern of 2 quarter notes followed by a half. If you then drew lines between those positions you’d have a polygon (a triangle here). This creates a way to visualize rhythms and families of rhythms that can be analyzed in a variety of ways. In general the math is pretty straightforward, and while it very occasionally does get a bit hairy I’ve found you can skip the details and still get the gist of what’s being discussed.

So if you are geeky enough that this sounds interesting, check it out.

Is the the Euclidean rhythms guy?

Don’t know for sure, but suspect not. About halfway through there are a series of short chapters (all the chapters are short) each covering a different method that has been used to generate rhythms. One of those discusses Euclidean rhythms. So it comes up but is in no way a focus.

One other thing I should have mentioned: This is available in a Kindle version, but that’s probably not the best format for it. There are a lot of illustrations, which typically don’t read well on a Kindle. And you also end up leafing back & forth to reference the illustrations from the text, which is easier with paper.


I found this to look in to the material,

Interesting. Based on the dedication I figured this paper is from about 2004 (who knew academics don’t date their papers, seems like it would be useful). The book is from 2013, so the paper is an early exploration of the topic. The books is much easier to read than the paper and the ideas greatly expanded.


I just wish someone would spend some time on how a played rhythm is perceived by the listener. What I mean is that basic rhythmic patterns per se are not that interesting but what makes a specific rhythm groove is very interesting.

One simple example would be the Viennese waltz rhythm. What makes a Strauss Waltz groove; it is something you can not explain in absolute scale. Saying that it is a waltz is true but not the whole truth. Not even close.

This “perception of time” / groove has been bothering me for years. Many times when I’ve created pop songs in Cubase with static sigs, some of them are more groovier than others. And I can not tell why. I guess it is a combination of sound, dynamics and silence. Even in absolute scale, it is - to some extent - possible to create groovy music, but usually it requires that some of the underlying added textures kind of drive the absolute rhythm parts away from that domain, cheating the listeners brain a little. It is difficult to explain without examples, but if you think you know any literature/research in this area, please let me know.

Very interesting material. I’ll have to look for the book, the paper is making my head hurt. :nerd:

From what I have understood in the paper it seems like there’s interesting concepts here. I like shaking things up with a new point of view and this certainly is new to me. In thinking about it, however, I realize that I may already think of rhythms in geometric ways. Good post, thanks.

One of my first teachers had me listen to Count Basie’s recordings to get more in touch with swing. One of the most useful exercises was to simply clap the 4/4 beats and then learning Lester’s solo –

What I’ve found and what I hear others commenting on is that, with MIDI, groove or swing is often more a question of velocity than timing.

All this said, the human perception of time is a highly interesting subject. Here’s some “geometry” that I’ve been inspired by the last few years – ‘Muheme’ Nyati group /Wagogo music in Tanzania

Stephen is right, something as seemingly minor as how you use velocity to accent beats can make a huge impact.

Awhile back I took a Groove3 course on programming drums that I found very useful. The biggest takeaway was how to look at drum parts in terms of sticking patterns (like real drummers do) and pay attention to which hand is doing what. Also things like ghost notes can add a lot even if you don’t consciously hear them.

Also I never have snap enabled when writing drum parts. For me eyeballing it introduces enough variance to seem real but not sloppy. This also makes it easy for example to rush or delay the 2 & 4 a bit which will create different vibes.

That looks like an excellent course.

My first Drum Machine was the Alesis HR-16 with it’s “wonderful” 16-bit samples! hehe. I still like how that one sounds and it had some excellent patterns. I learned how to make my Sequencer midi record the patterns – fun stuff and very instructive.

I also have some favorite drummers and watch their lessons videos on youtube and just whatever lessons for drummers happen to come along on my feed. I’m getting some very nice 32nd note rolls from Groove Agent SE4’s rudiments settings, which can be perfectly automated.

I tend to record in layers, but I’m hearing the whole pattern. I like putting the different parts of the kit, or kits, on their own tracks – much like a real kit sets up in a real kit recording session. However, I’m starting to get good at dissolving and then merging or bouncing parts as best seems to work for generating the sounds I’m hearing.

Great stuff, Raino, thank you for your posts.