Complementary Rhythm: Musical Elements

            Listening to music in a non-conventional manner can give an individual  a whole new means of appreciating it as an art.  An endeavour with the technicalities of music may only appear interesting to a musician or a music student, but there is more substance to listening in a technical sense rather than just simply conforming to what radio stations and other communication mediums that tend to tell listeners what sort of music to appreciate. Appreciation is a subjective matter in which something good is dependent of a person’s preferences, but in music’s case, what classifies as good music is dependent of the elements incorporated within a certain musical piece.

            Music is basically comprised of four major elements: rhythm, melody, harmony, and tone color. An ordinary listener will only appreciate music in a combination of those elements.  Music appreciation, however, will not be fully possible without any reference to rhythm.  It is therefore plausible to speak of rhythm as an essential musical element as it is one of the bases in which music is inclined to.

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            In a broad sense, rhythm is a just a fraction of a larger whole, but musically, rhythm is one such element that complements any musical piece.  It is basically an emphasis on the series of sounds within the piece.  Rhythm usually starts music and complements other instruments that take the role of other elements in musical pieces.  Apart from its task of complementing, rhythm also serves as a  time keeper to perceive and measure time (Copland & Schuman, 2002).

            Rhythm is the element which gives control over the flow of a particular musical piece, rhythm serves as the guideline musicians respond to.  The complementary rhythm instrument stands as accompaniment to the singer or lead instrument.  This accompaniment most of the time is used to support melodic lines and scales (van der Merwe, 1989).

            Complementary rhythm can be given by instruments such as piano, guitar, bass guitar, drums, and percussions.  Given the advent of modern technology on music, there are several electronic instruments that can give complementary rhythm like electronic drums, drum machines, synthesizers, turntables, and keyboards.  The premise of complementary rhythm concerns the use of major and minor chords to substantiate progression on the melodic lines of the other instruments and voices.

            The modern appraoch to complementary rhythm concerns the use of chord patterns that ring throughout an entire piece.  The progression of chords are played in less complex sequences as the emphasis is more on the main instrument and/or the voice, these chord patterns are often applied by rock musicians.  In other genres like jazz, for instance, the rhythm accompaniment, the chords are played in complex manners.

            In connection, complementary rhythm musicians mostly opt for a more thick and stronger sound as the emphasis relies more on rhythm rather than the distinct sounds of lead instrumentalists or singers.  They also use different amplifiers for flawless rhythm feel, and also for the sound to be different from that of the lead instrument.

            One good musical piece that exercises extensive complementary rhythmic elements can be heard in Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5.  The composition’s intro conforms to the pattern of the four-note format and the entire piece is taken from the key of C minor (Beethoven, 2005).  Beethoven’s fifth symphony gives a harmony of tonal movement, but rhythm is more prevalent.  Symphony number 5 makes use of single chord notes and less melodic sound can be heard from it (Beethoven, 2005).

            Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Eine kleine Machtmusik is anothern exemplary piece of complementary rhythm.  The piece was written in 1787 while Mozart was busy doing the opera Don Giovanni. The arrangement of the composition are two violins, viola, cello, and double bass, but contemporary versions use more instruments than the original (Zaslaw & Cowdert, 1991).  The piece begins in a melodic flow until it progresses to a more rhythmic flow.  The melodic first theme will recurr and is then overlapped by a thicker third theme in the key of C minor, but the more prevalent sound is taken from the key of C major (Mozart, 1787).

            Modern compositions also showcase notable complementary rhythms in numerous songs, such as Led Zeppelin’s 1969 track, Whole Lotta Love.  The song begins with a guitar riff taken in the key of E major and is rampant in the entire song.  The song is rich in rhythm which is a total departure from Jimmy page’s melody inclined style.  The main melody of the song is provided by Robert Plant’s high pitch,  but the complimentary rhythm signifies the song’s feel (Page,Plant, Bonham, Jones, & Dixon, 1969).


Beethoven, L. (1804). Symphony no. 5. [Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra]. On   Beethoven:Symphony no. 5 [mp3]. Milwaukee: MSO Classics, (2005).

Copland, A,. & Schuman, W. (2002). What to Listen for in Music. New York: Signet Classics.

Mozart, W.A. (1787). Eine kleine Nachtmusik [Capella Istropolitana]. On The Best of Mozart     [CD]. Franklin, WI: Naxos, (1998) .
Page, J, Plant, R., Bonham, J., Jones, J. & Dixon, W. (1969). Whole Lotta Love. On Mothership            [CD]. New York: Atlantic Records, (2007).

van der Merwe, P. (1989). Origins of the Popular Style: The Antecedents of Twentieth-Century    Popular Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Zeslaw, N., & Cowdery, W. (1991). The Compleat Mozart: A Guide to the Musical Works of       Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. New York: Norton.


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