The Knowledge: Pulse Vocabulary

The devolved nations of the UK each have their own music curricula, which have to be interpreted and taught by non-specialists at primary level. In this blog series, we aim to support teachers’ knowledge of the key musical terminology which appears in these curricula. In this edition of The Knowledge, we look at terminology associated with pulse.


The pulse of the music is its ‘heartbeat.’ The regular beat which underpins the music. You can find the pulse of the music naturally by clapping along to it. The pulse doesn’t need to be ‘counted’ as it is just the regular underpinning force behind the music that keeps it steady. When you start counting the beat you are exploring ‘metre’ (see below).


Rhythm is the patterns of long and short notes in the music. Rhythm gives the music energy and direction. When we talk about crotchets, quavers, minims etc we are talking about the length of each note, and when we string a row of crotchets, quavers, minims etc together we make a rhythm!


Metre is the organisation of the pulse of the music into patterns of strong and weak beats. The time signature at the beginning of the music shows the metre, which we can also refer to as ‘the number of beats in a bar.’ The most ‘natural’ feeling metre is 4 beats in a bar, where beat 1 is the strongest (most emphasised) and 2, 3, and 4 are weaker (less emphasised)


The tempo of a piece of music is its speed. There are many different Italian terms describing different tempi, such as Adagio (slow) and Allegro (fast). We can also use metronome settings for a more ‘scientific’ approach to tempo as these tell us the precise number of beats per minute, rather than relying on our own individual interpretation of what ‘fast’ or ‘slow’ is!