I'm writing some software that composes drum-lines.

I'm looking for a word that describes the lowest unique combination of down- and up-beats.

Eg: Let's say the following are quarter notes:


(Rock 4/4 time) kick SNARE kick SNARE kick SNARE kick SNARE ...

(Waltz 3/4 time) KICK snare snare KICK snare snare KICK snare snare ...

So, I want to say, the ???? of the Disco line is "1 beat", the ???? of the Rock line is "2 beats", and the ???? of the Waltz is "3 beats"

In drum theory, there is a word "tatum" which reminds me of what I am looking for, although it is not the same concept. The "tatum" describes the time division that most highly coincides with note onsets. Ie: if a drum line consists of mainly 8th notes or longer, the listener perceives that the tatum is "1/8"

The word I am looking for is like the tatum, but it describes the number of notes that is the lowest distance before a downbeat repeats.

What word would best suit this concept? I currently use the word "Metric Bounce" but I'd rather stick to some kind of standard terminology.

  • 1
    May I suggest: groove, phrase. Reasoning: as your example points out, meter has nothing to do with the type of the beat. (4/4 1+1+1+1) or (4/4 = 2+2) You could use the word pattern too. Oct 31, 2018 at 19:50
  • Thanks! Unfortunately, I don't think either of those really convey the "lowest common denominator" side of things. Oct 31, 2018 at 19:53
  • 1
    I get ya... Storming my brain throughout my musical begginings... [€dit] ** FIGURE? ** Oct 31, 2018 at 19:57
  • Thanks all! I'm going to stop switching my "accepted answer" now. All the answers on this page are really good. I'd be happy accepting any of them. Nov 1, 2018 at 14:48

4 Answers 4


If I understand you right, mathematicians and scientists call that the period. If some thing (such as a drum line) consists of a pattern which repeats in a cycle, then the length of that pattern is the period.

So, for example:

  • KICK KICK KICK KICK KICK KICK KICK KICK ... - The period of this drum line is 1 beat.
  • kick SNARE kick SNARE kick SNARE kick SNARE ... - The period of this drum line is 2 beats.
  • KICK snare snare KICK snare snare KICK snare snare ... - The period of this drum line is 3 beats.
  • KICK snare KICK snare snare KICK snare KICK snare snare KICK snare KICK snare snare ... - The period of this drum line is 5 beats.
  • Thanks! That's true, but it's also a somewhat generic term. There are other features of a drumline which one could describe with the term "period". I'm not thrilled with calling it "metric bounce", but I think it's easier to remember its function. I will likely need to describe other features in this code with "period" and it would confusing. Oct 31, 2018 at 22:57
  • To me, the word "period" seems pretty precise and specific, but I'm more a mathematician than a musician, so don't take my word for it. :) I'm not sure what other features you'd also call "period"; maybe you could just as well use other words like "duration"? Nov 1, 2018 at 12:13
  • Period is a good general term. Keep in mind "period" also has an important meaning in musical phrasing (as in antecedent/consequent) so there is potential for confusion with that meaning. Nov 1, 2018 at 14:16
  • Okay, you've convinced me. Ugh, all these answers are good! Nov 1, 2018 at 14:47

You could borrow a term from poetry: metrical foot.

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  • Thanks, this is pretty good. I'm not actually sure either answer is exactly what I was looking for (at this point I'm getting a bit muddled thinking about it!). I will probably stick with "bounce", if only because it works as a mnemonic for me. Oct 31, 2018 at 20:01
  • 1
    As far as borrowing from non-musical speak goes, there also "periodicity" or "period". Oct 31, 2018 at 22:54

One term that might fit is "grouping."

In studies of rhythm and meter, we refer to grouping as a hierarchical structure of units created by various means within the music. We could say that the grouping of the disco line is one beat, or that the rock line has a duple grouping.

This term is used constantly in studies of rhythm and meter, and it's especially important in popular music (and other 20th-century contexts) when the grouping doesn't align with the notated meter (as happens, for instance, with heavily syncopated lines).


Try "Down beat rate".

In the software, put text with a dropdown list as shown below.

Down beat rate : (1|2|3|4|...) ( with default value as number of beats per measure)

In help page/notes, add something like this.

"Down beat rate : Down beat at every (1|2|3|4)beat(s)"

  • I really should have considered that. It's programming. Obvious is good. Nov 1, 2018 at 14:49

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