What Is Pulse In Music?

A pulse splits time up into steady chunks called beats so that every beat is the same length of time. A pulse is a regular beat that occurs at regular intervals of time such as a clock ticking. In music the pulse is measured in time or beats per minute (BPM).

Start clapping now. Make sure your claps are evenly spaced. You have created a pulse.

Now clap more slowly but still with a regular time space between each clap. Now you are clapping to a slower pulse. Try clapping to a quick pulse. A pulse is simply that.

Pulse And Duration 

What we have learnt is that music has an underlying pulse or beat.  This pulse can be shown in music by a series of equal signs called notes.

Clapping A Steady Pulse Exercise 

Clap a steady pulse but this time can you sing the nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Things to think about while trying this exercise:

  • Can you sing the nursery rhyme whilst keeping a steady pulse?
  • What do you notice about the pulse you are clapping and the nursery rhyme you are singing?

The clapping pulse is steady and unchanging whilst the nursery rhyme you are singing is changing in length from quick to slow. 

The nursery rhyme has different rhythmic patterns.  What you are doing is arranging notes of different speeds into a pattern over the steady pulse.  This pattern is called rhythm.

Note Lengths

Knowing the different notes and their varying durations of time (think speed) is important.  Start by learning the following four note durations. 

NoteDurationBritish NameAmerican Name
4 beatsSemibreve Whole Note
2 beatsMinimHalf Note
1 beatCrotchetQuarter Note
½ a beatQuaver Eighth Note

Spend some time learning the note names, the duration and the musical symbols.  Make sure that your children grasp that two quavers fit into one crochet, two crotchets fit into one minim and two minims fit into one semibreve.

Practice Pulse/Beat in Your Home Education 

You, the parent, clap a steady crotchet beat, while your children clap a minim beat at the same time.  This will mean that the kids will clap on every other one of your claps. 

When everyone is comfortable with this change and let your kids clap crotchets whilst you, the parent, clap minims.  Check that the pulse remains steady and does not speed up or slow down. 

Now shout ‘Swap’  and without a break change from crotchets to minims or minims to crotchets.

This exercise can also be done with crotchets and quavers or crotchets and semibreves.

The main thing with music and especially when learning about the theory of music is to make it fun.  

Looking for activities to help your children learn about pulse then check out these:

Hand Drumming
Rhythmic Workout