Beauty in the Beat How rhythm shapes our lives.

Beauty in the Beat How rhythm shapes our lives.

Issue 49


Arts & Culture

  • Words John Ovans
  • Photograph Chiron Duong

Rhythm has great significance in music and poetry beyond simply propelling the track or verse forward. And its role varies around the world: Unlike in Western music, for example, where the melody takes precedence, West African songs are generally polyrhythmic, meaning that they layer two or more conflicting rhythms to represent the fabric of life and the dialogue of human relationships.

Our actual dialogue—language—is also governed by rhythm; everything from syllable stress to pauses and pitch help to get across what we are trying to communicate to the listener. Barack Obama, for instance, regularly employs a dramatic pause to add weight and gravitas to poignant moments in his speeches, and studies have shown that a reassuring, meditative rhythm has been proven to help to reduce anxiety: Those working with nonverbal children have found that they are more likely to speak when offered a clear, drummed-out rhythm to follow.

From the first heartbeat heard through a sonogram to the moment it comes to flatline, with every slowing or quickening in between, rhythm is proof that life exists. When our circadian rhythm—the internal 24-hour clock that dictates our sleep patterns, hormones, body temperature and appetite—is disrupted, we find ourselves unable to function. Similarly, the pace of our respiration and menstrual cycles can betray our physical or emotional health. As something so innate within us, it’s no surprise that rhythm is crucial to all areas of our life.

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