What is the proper musical term for the time quantum in additive rhythm (e.g. Indian music): i.e., the duration of which all notes/rests are some integer multiple?

EDIT: The precise context for which I need this term is in writing a specification of a music file format that uses additive rhythm (all durations are multiples of a time quantum), and I'm looking for a sufficiently accurate musical term to use. If you were to compose western music in this format you would use say a length of 1 quantum for 16th notes and length of 16 quantums for whole notes.


1 Answer 1


The term is "Tatum" (Wikipedia).

[The] lowest regular pulse train that a listener intuitively infers from the timing of perceived musical events: a time quantum. It is roughly equivalent to the time division that most highly coincides with note onsets

However, this is independent of the idea of additive rhythm. By definition, the smallest unit in additive rhythm is the "beat" or "pulse". In divisive rhythm, however, the Tatum is more relevant, as note onsets may occur more frequently than the perceived beat.

The question is further complicated by the mention of Indian classical music. The time concept, tala or taal, comprises cycles of beats, but in this case "beat" refers to a drum pattern that may consist of more than one strike. Western music considers a beat as an abstract, discrete unit; a single beat in Indian classical music might comprise multiple onsets of sound. Where Western music would consider those multiple onsets as subdivisions of a beat, in Indian music they are not viewed as distinct, divisible parts.

  • I have some confusion regarding the use of beat and pulse in this context. Isn't beat normally something sub-dividable, rather than atomic, e.g. a quarter note which may be further divided by 2s or 3s? As for pulse, I don't really understand the term. Some of the dictionaries I looked at confuse the terms beat and pulse (or define one as the other) such that I couldn't really tell them apart. A person on another platform also suggested the term tatum, though I'm not entirely certain whether or not this is the term I'm looking for. Jun 16, 2022 at 3:49
  • In music "beat" and "pulse" mean the same thing. In divisible rhythm the beat can be subdivided, but in additive rhythm the beat is atomic. This is by definition. I suspect the term "Tatum" was a joke. Art Tatum was a jazz pianist known for being able to play extremely fast series of notes.
    – Aaron
    Jun 16, 2022 at 3:57
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