Meter or metre is a term that music has inherited from the rhythmic element of poetry (Scholes 1977; Latham 2002b) where it means the number of lines in a verse, the number of syllables in each line and the arrangement of those syllables as long or short, accented or unaccented (Scholes 1977; Latham 2002b). Hence it may also refer to the pattern of lines and accents in the verse of a hymn or ballad, for example, and so to the organization of music into regularly recurring measures or bars of stressed and unstressed "beats", indicated in Western music notation by a time signature and bar-lines.
The terminology of western music is notoriously imprecise in this area (Scholes 1977). MacPherson (1930, 3) preferred to speak of "time" and "rhythmic shape", Imogen Holst (1963, 17) of "measured rhythm". However, London has written a book about musical metre, which "involves our initial perception as well as subsequent anticipation of a series of beats that we abstract from the rhythm surface of the music as it unfolds in time" (London 2004, 4).
This "perception" and "abstraction" of rhythmic measure is the foundation of human instinctive musical participation, as when we divide a series of identical clock-ticks into "tick-tock-tick-tock" (Scholes 1977). "Rhythms of recurrence" arise from the interaction of two levels of motion, the faster providing the pulse and the slower organizing the beats into repetitive groups (Yeston 1976, 50–52). "Once a metric hierarchy has been established, we, as listeners, will maintain that organization as long as minimal evidence is present" (Lester 1986, 77).
Famous quotes containing the word meter:
“Much poetry seems to be aware of its situation in time and of its relation to the metronome, the clock, and the calendar. ... The season or month is there to be felt; the day is there to be seized. Poems beginning When are much more numerous than those beginning Where of If. As the meter is running, the recurrent message tapped out by the passing of measured time is mortality.”
—William Harmon (b. 1938)