Is there a difference between pulse and beat ,I've done my research, and some resources says they're the same, others says they're not,so which assumption is more acceptable?

-From what I've learned, the accentuation of certain beats is what determine the pulse of the piece ,is my assumption correct or not?

-Is the pulse = a single beat or it represent the whole distance between two accented notes?

Sorry for the messy questions,I couldn't find the words to describe what I need to perceive.

  • Can you explain more about where you've seen the word "pulse" used? I'm for one not familiar with that word in a musical context. Commented May 30, 2017 at 3:47
  • @ToddWilcox - Just dug out one of my 'bibles' - the Oxford Companion to Music (1955), and pulse is described pretty much as I said in my answer earlier. Maybe it hasn't arrived the other side of the pond yet!
    – Tim
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 11:56

6 Answers 6


A pulse is the heartbeat of the rhythm/music that you hear - and feel - when listening to music and this is what people usually tap along to when listening. The beat is the repeated note value of the time signature.

They can often (and are usually) the same thing, or at least they cross over. However I shall give some examples:

  • In a piece with time sig 4/4, the beat is 4 crotchet beats every bar. The pulse is most likely also going to be this however if some notes are more pronounced you may tap your foot 2 beats/bar.

  • In a piece with time sig 6/8, the beat is 6 quaver beats/bar whereas the pulse is usually 2 beats/notes at intervals of dotted crotchets. It will be felt as: 1-and-a-2-and-a, 1-and-a-2-and-a, etc. where '1' is where you tap your foot, the pulse.

  • 1
    So a beat is more of a (let's say) measuring utility.while the pulse is what you feel in a song. Commented May 30, 2017 at 20:03
  • @JaafarJumaa yes exactly!
    – Ben Hughes
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 22:18

More often than not, they're synonyms. When counting the rhythm of a piece, they are the points at which you may tap your foot, or click you finger. Be aware, though, that people's perception of where a pulse is may vary. Some may clap on 1, 2, 3 and 4. others on 1 and 3, yet others on 2 and 4.

It's all pretty straightforward till we come to complex time, such as 6/8, where often two different feels or counts (call them pulses or beats if you like) are present in the same piece. 1 2 3 4 5 6 is one manifestation; 1 - - 2 - - is another. And the difference between 2/4/and 4/4 is sometimes not easy to discern, making the pulse or beat a little muddy.

Some refer to a crotchet (quarter note) as a one beat note - I tend to - as it is the basic diet for a lot of rhythms. So in a 4/4 piece - way the most common - it could be said that there are 4 beats to the bar, or the pulse is 1 2 3 4.


The meaning of 'pulse' is fairly set (unless we're going to get silly and bring vegetables into it). It's the 'click track' behind the music. The heartbeat. Well - the 'pulse'.

'Beat' has a variety of musical meanings. It can mean the physical gesture made by the conductor. In some modern 'techno' music it can mean a sampled fragment endlessly repeated. It can be used to approve the rhythmic drive of a piece - you'll hear 'That song has a great beat!' rather than 'That song has a great pulse!' Not a term used much about 'classical' music, though some of it has an excellent 'beat'!

  • Had to upvote this - although it looks like you've bean taking the peas...
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 19, 2018 at 7:46

A good way of thinking about it is as a clockwork watch or clockwork mechanism or machine. You could have two watches keeping the same time but with different time signatures. Think of the second hand as the pulse with its tick, tock, tick, tock and the beat as the mechanism driving the second hand as 123, 123, 123, 123. Each tick or tock is supported by three beats. A beat behind the second hand pulse of 1234, 1234, 1234, 1234 would be a 16/4 time signature. A beat that is the same as the pulse 1234, 1234, e.t.c. would be in common time. An old mantelpiece clock could be imagined in cut time 2/2.

That's why trying to determine the time signature of a tune by counting foot taps as beats only works in 4/4 or if you double or half your tap interval to an 8/4 or 2/4, e.t.c. Complex time signatures can't be determined that way. For example, if you tap out a 6/8 jig, you'd fool yourself into thinking it's in 2/8 time, i.e. two beats to every bar whereas you are actually tapping out groups of three beats, 123, 123.

A common question in traditional music that might help is the difference between a jig and a reel. To real (forgive the pun) traditional musicians, who have learned by ear and never seen a musical score, the reply will be something using words; if you can say 'jiggery, jiggery,' to the music, it's a jig and if you can say 'this is how a reel goes, this is how a reel goes,' it's a reel. The jiggery is Ji Ge Ry, 123, beat on the capital letter, and this is how a reel goes is Thisis Howa Reel Goes, 1234. Therefore, a jig is in 6/8 time (usually) 123, 123, i.e. 6 X 8th notes (beats) per bar and a reel is in 4/4 time 4 X 4 notes (beats) per bar.

To understand the 123 grouping think of a waltz which is often (usually in 3/4 time, i.e. three quarter notes per bar. You'll find yourself saying 123, 123, 123, 123 while tapping out the pulse as one tap on the 1 of each 123 grouping.


Additionally pulse refers to a signal and can contain harmonics. A beat refers more to a tempo (rhythm).

  • Not strictly true. So -1. Wish everyone gave downvote reasons!
    – Tim
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 16:49

In essence Pulse came from/derived from our own Heart Beat. The Accented part of our Heart beat, usually the downbeat in music is the Pulse as in our "Heart beats" rhythmic pattern.

As our Heart Beat is normally constant, so is the Pulse of a piece. Otherwise we would have a chaotic rhythmic structure. Remember Music Is Beautiful, with Form and Grace, It Comes From Our Souls. In order for the Musician/Producer to communicate to the Listener/s in an orderly, clear, Conscice manner., we must have rules(Structures) and grammar(Dynamics, Beats etc.), a universal set of rules as in mathematics, "The Language of Numbers and it's Operations).

Detecting the Pulse of a piece takes practice and patients. What you'll be looking for, or I should say, listening for is the 1st. beat, "the One Beat" in any measure. As I previously mentioned, pulse to my understanding a constant attached to the Time Signature so with this exception to this rule in Mind, it is constant, now change the Time Sig., and you may have a change in the score's pulse. Back to detectng pulse. Once the one has been detected, determine, Time Sig./Meter, synonymous terms. Next listen for the Accented beats, a re-occurring pattern within each Measure. An ex. being a Waltz, it's pulse sounds like One-two-three. The Accented beat is Capitalised for a reason, it is Strong beat while the others are called weak beats, the accent gives the beat this quality. So it's sounds and danced correctly. Strong-weak-weak, and repeated from beginning to end. I like to think of pulse like the Accented beats per measure.

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