May 15, 2018


Combining Tonal Patterns and Rhythm Patterns in “Real” Music

By Andy Mullen 


In this Audiation Station video, we take our first stab at combining tonal patterns and rhythm patterns and reading them in "real" pieces of music. By "real" pieces of music, I mean we are reading pitches and rhythm together in a composed melody specific for this purpose. So, may not so "real." But real enough. 


Like all of the pattern videos, these melodies are scaffolded so that you are only learning a little bit at a time. The training wheels are firmly in place. 

What follows below are some steps you should take when you are first attempting to combine tonal patterns and rhythm patterns. 

After a while, these steps will be ingrained in the reading process, and you will do them subconsciously.

Thankfully, we can read a lot quicker than we can perform, so many of these steps will also happen simultaneously as you are reading. In fact you will likely be performing one measure while reading another.

3 Step process

  • Step 1: Analyze the song rhythmically
  • Step 2: Analyze the song tonally
  • Put the parts together, and read the song in its entirety

Let's examine each of these steps in more detail. We will use the following piece of music as our example.  

Example 1

Combinging T+R example 1_0001


First, identify the meter. Is it Duple? Triple? Something else? Are you seeing "Du De's" or "Du Da Di's"? In Example 1, we are seeing only Du's and Du De's, so it's a pretty good bet it's in Duple meter. It is!

Remind yourself of the syllables for macrobeats and microbeats in Duple meter. 

Look at the notation, and confirm what notes represent the macrobeats and microbeats. (Quarter notes and paired eighth notes)

Scan the piece for familiar rhythm patterns

Chant the rhythm of the entire song with a neutral syllable. (Baa)

Chant the rhythm of the entire song with rhythm solfege


First, find DO. In these early examples, that will be quite easy because each piece will always start and end on DO. In Example 1, F is DO. 

Next, you’ll need to Identify the Tonality. Since I’ve told you that it starts and ends on DO, you can assume it’s likely Major Tonality. It is.

Once you know what tonality you’re in, it’s a good idea to ground yourself in the tonality. You can do this in a number of ways. 

  • A very easy way is to sing a few tonal patterns. Try singing the first three melodic patterns and the first 4 harmonic patterns from Musicianship Level 1: drm, mrd, dtd; dm, sd, tr, md

Once you are grounded in the tonality, scan the melody. Do you see any familiar tonal patterns? In these early examples, the only pitches you will see are DRM and T, so most of the patterns will be familiar.

Then, trace the entire melody by humming the pitches to yourself. Don’t concern yourself with rhythm; just notice the rising and falling of the melody. How high does it go? How low does it go?

Finally, trace the melody again, but this time, use solfege

Step 3: Read the song

Now that you have done your preliminary tonal and rhythmic analysis, it’s time to read the song. Some considerations:

First stop and take a full audiation breath. Taking a breath grounds and focuses you. 

Set yourself a reasonable tempo, and sing the melody (pitches and rhythm) with a neutral syllable ("Noo" would work well, since we don't use this syllable for anything else.) in its entirety. Don’t stop, even if you make a mistake!

Finally, your teacher may ask you to also sing the melody using tonal solfege, or rhythm solfege. When we are reading music out in the wild, we will usually either have words to sing, or be playing an instrument, but this step is a useful thing to do. Singing a song in a choral ensemble with tonal solfege or rhythm solfege may help your director assess tonal or rhythm accuracy. 


Here are several more examples for you to practice.

Example 2

Example 2_0001

Example 3

Example 3_0002

Example 4

Example 4_0003

Example 5

Example 5_0002


For even more examples for you or your students to practice, check out Reading Sheet 1a

pinit fg en rect red 28 - Combining Tonal Patterns and Rhythm Patterns in “Real” Music

About the author Andy Mullen

Andy Mullen is a teacher, folk musician, multi-instrumentalist, recovering songwriter, and lifelong learner. He has taught all levels of students in a number of subjects, and is currently a middle school general music and choir teacher in Burlington, Massachusetts. Mr Mullen holds Masters degrees in Music Education and School Administration, as well as certification from the Gordon Institute of Music Learning (GIML) in Elementary General Level 2 and Early Childhood Music. He is the author of "The Literate Musician" and "Fifty Tunes for Teaching," the creator of The Literate Musician podcast, and the composer of the children's album, "Chucka Chucka Wawa."

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