I am not a musician, I don't read music and I don't actually play any instruments. However (and sorry if this sounds stupid) I'm a very good dancer and believe I have a good ear and feeling for tempo and beat.

However, when I listen to certain songs, I notice that there is a beat/tempo that changes the moment another instrument joins in, or the vocalist starts to sing.

The two pieces of music I notice this on all of the time is the intro to 'All my life' by the Foo Fighters and the change over from the verse into the chorus section of 'Forever came today' by Diana Ross and the Supremes.

I have no idea how to describe it correctly (hence my posting here) but in the Diana Ross song, I can only describe it as a slow beat that doesn't change tempo as it goes into the chorus, but it suddenly sounds as though the tempo goes to the same speed as 'Can't hurry love' (also by Diana Ross (or Phil Collins)).

I'm not really expecting anything from the query, but it just sits in the back of my mind and somebody may also think about it, but know what it's called (if anything).

Thanks in advance,

Pete J.

  • 2
    Possibly a poly rhythm? I can think on one easy to hear example, Breaking the Girl by the Chili Peppers. It has a 2 over 3 or 3 over 2 groove. The 3 is stringer but you can count it in either 2 or 3. Also, what you are hearing might just be an example of syncopation.
    – user50691
    Sep 4, 2019 at 15:55
  • A polyrhythm is when two instruments actually play the different divisions, e.g. one instrument plays 3 notes while another plays 4 notes in the same amount of time. What you're describing could just be an ambiguous rhythm resulting from different instruments accenting different beats, e.g. one instrument stresses every 3rd note and another stresses every 4th note, without actually playing the notes at a different tempo. Listeners can then base their sense of the rhythm on one or the other instrument. I get that with Björk's All Neon Like. Sep 4, 2019 at 16:18
  • Hi ggcg. Thanks for answering. I just listened to the Chilli Peppers song and while I can hear what you mean, it isn't the same as I'm trying to describe. I also looked up the definition of syncopation and I don't think it is that as well. Very difficult to explain what I'm hearing/feeling in words (funnily enough, one or two of my ex's have said the same sort of thing about me :) Sep 4, 2019 at 16:21
  • For "All my life", at what phrase exactly do you experience the change in rhythm? I've read through the note sheet and couldn't find any abnormalities. It's actually pretty dull rhythmically.
    – Pyromonk
    Sep 5, 2019 at 1:47
  • 1
    Right at the start, the intro. They play 3 repetitive notes/chords and it's these 3 that is where it happens. It's only when Dave Grohl starts to sing that I realise I got the beat wrong. Again, I don't know how to explain it. There is no different emphasis on any of the 3 notes/chords played, but I can interpret those 3 notes in two different ways. Without singing it out to explain what I mean, I don't think I'm going to be able to explain it properly. Sep 5, 2019 at 17:18

1 Answer 1


Hi and welcome to the music stack exchange. The term that best describes the phenomenon to which your question refers is misinterpretation.

Examining the songs that you reference, both the beat and the tempo are fairly straightforward... There is nothing out of the ordinary as far as how the beat or tempo can be quantified; at least according to music theory. There are simple time signatures with uniform tempos used throughout each of the respective songs, as is the most common rhythmic form used in almost all pop-music.

There is a term that refers to the usage of concurrent tempos in songs, Polytempo. This question here on the music stack exchange nicely describes the difference between this term and Polyrhythm and Polymeter... Also, see this question for a better understanding of the differences between beat, tempo and time signature.

It's worth stating here that it is potentially 'easy' to misinterpret the rhythms of songs that contain complex time signatures or mixed meters... or any song that doesn't conform to the most common duple/quadruple and triple meters. In the sense that these sort of rhythms do not tend to be 'dance-y' for the most part.

However, none of these terms fit the songs that you reference, after analysis.

Finally, perhaps it is easy to conflate beats or tempos when there is simply less to reference within a song... As you state in the comments, it isn't until the singing begins in the intro to 'All My Life' that the rhythm 'corrects itself' for you. In 'Forever Came Today,' the percussion drops-out a bit only to return with a big flourish to emphasize the dynamic change from the verse to the chorus.

  • I really like the idea of rhythmic misdirection. In "All My Life" the '1' of the measure occurs on the second 16th note, not the first. Nov 8, 2019 at 12:53
  • I follow you - the intro to "Eye of the Tiger" comes to mind... That wouldn't seem to apply to the "Forever Came Today" example in the question though. Nov 8, 2019 at 13:28
  • Also the intro to "Life in the Fast Lane" by the Eagles... Nov 8, 2019 at 14:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.