A large chunk of music has been made in the last 50+ years that largely cannot be analysed (in any meaningful way) via notes, focused instead on variations on repetition/timbre/rhythm/dynamics/etc. Hence my distinction of "notes" below.

From my relatively layman point of view, the fundamentals of western music theory seem to focus mainly on notes. Pitch, scales, melody, chords, modes, consonance, and many other things are frameworks to understand notes. However it seems very limited by comparison in terms of understanding rhythm or timbre.

I appreciate that timbre is somewhat problematic and abstract, especially if the instruments or timbres are themselves abstract (i.e. electronic music).

We have stuff like meter, syncopation, and swing for rhythm, but there doesn't seem to be much underlying it. By which I mean that we don't seem to have anything comparative to keys, melody, harmony, etc. For rhythm, we seem to do little more than define intervals, and name styles. There seems to be no understanding as deep as the circle of fifths.

Do we have any better/richer frameworks for a deeper understanding of rhythm and timbre? Particularly rhythm, and how certain rhythmic intervals sound good together.

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    I wonder if your personal knowledge of rhythm is lacking in areas that the general body of knowledge and theory on rhythm is not. There’s plenty of analysis of rhythm in the world, it’s just not as famous/popular as tonal analysis. Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 15:53
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    I always just got away with. "It goes, a bom ana chack, and boom chicka chack" which works just fine so long as you never have to write it down;)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 16:11
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    Given even simple quavers in one bar of 4/4, if my calculations are correct, there are over 40,000 ways they could be played. If that's so, there's a lot of research needed.
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 16:35
  • @ToddWilcox I thought that might be the case. I pretty much know the fundamentals. Do you have any examples of deeper theory on rhythm?
    – Modal Nest
    Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 17:15
  • The circle of fifths is not a "deep" concept. Anyone should be able to discover the circle of fifths ater noticing that a G7 leads to C and C7 leads to F. Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 20:08

1 Answer 1


There is a huge amount of stuff written about rhythm. William Rothstein's "Phrase Rhythm in Tonal Music" is one. A quick check on Google Scholar turns up quite a few papers on the subject. There is probably a lot also in dissertations which could be found in a dissertation index.

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