I was looking at the differences between neo-Riemannian (interrelational) and Schenkerian (hyper-tonal) analysis, which are nearly diametrically opposed, and it occurred to me that every rhythmic analysis I've ever encountered is both (a) not that fully fleshed out, and (b) very metric-centered.

This makes some sense, but I wonder if someone has considered such a neo-Riemannian approach to rhythm. Does there exist anywhere a type of rhythmic analysis that is all about the interrelations from one figure to the next, a-la neo-Riemannian style analysis?

  • Perhaps someone with more rep than me could add the tag Neo-Riemannian? It doesn't currently exist, but surely on a SE that purports to talk about music theory, it should. I mean, shouldn't it?
    – Ben I.
    May 17, 2017 at 10:41

1 Answer 1


Interesting question!

Neo-Riemannian theory is a very broad subfield of music theory, but we can generalize and say that it is an associative theory. In other words, it is a network-based theory that relates how a given entity relates to other entities. (You addressed this, you just called it "interrelational.")

Schenkerian theory, on the other hand, is a hierarchical theory. It is a theory of monotonality, which means that there is a single tonic that governs a given span of music. Thus it is a theory that relates how all given entities relate to a single governing entity. (You called this "hyper-tonal.")

Now we can look at the distinction between rhythm and meter. Whereas rhythm is a pattern of articulations, meter is the hierarchy of that pattern. Thus a study of meter is necessarily hierarchical, and so an associative system like neo-Riemannian theory would not be ideal to study rhythm. But again, you implicitly address this, because you specifically asked for approaches to rhythm, not to meter. (You did your homework!)

But the problem is that music theorists often join rhythm and meter in their analysis, so it's tough to find analyses of only rhythm (the associative connections), with no concern for the meter (the hierarchy of it all).

Nevertheless, you may want to check out:

  • It will take me some time to absorb this material, but I have upvoted, because this is an insightful answer. Thanks!
    – Ben I.
    May 17, 2017 at 12:09
  • If the music of Haydn, Mozart, etc. is metrical, does it mean the composers had a hierarchical approach to rhythm? May 17, 2017 at 15:15
  • @MichaelCurtis I'm not sure what you're asking. I think it's safe to say they had a hierarchical approach to meter (since meter is, by definition, hierarchical), but I don't know what hierarchical rhythm would be.
    – Richard
    Jun 12, 2017 at 18:58
  • @Richard, I was wondering if there is single governing concept for rhythm similar to what you explained about Schenker and tonality? Maybe another way to ask is: the OP is looking for a figure to figure Analysis. Would the opposite be a figure to meter analysis? Are there any books for that topic? I'd post a new question, but I don't really have a clear question. Jun 12, 2017 at 19:54
  • @Richard, I think I need to start with reading Cooper and Meyer, the Rhythmic Structure of Music. Jun 13, 2017 at 16:50

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