The Beat


Sometimes when I have nothing better to do, I make up random shit to worry about. Before I had a kid, this usually resulted in lengthy consultations with Dr. Google wherein he diagnosed me with horrific and terrifying illnesses. Now that I have a kid and I’m convinced he’s relatively normal in terms of physical and mental development (the early days were touch-and-go, as they say), these worries usually focus on the state of our neighborhood public school or random things that aren’t life threatening.

Tonight I worried about how, if I had to, I would explain the concept of the beat to Soren. The good news is, if it’s okay for me to say this, my kid has moves. Seriously. He can kind of dance and when he does, his movements indicate that he has at least a rudimentary understanding of and appreciation for the beat. But how would I explain it?

I suppose the usual course of action these days it to turn to Wikipedia and ignore the Please read: A personal appeal from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales while you read whatever it is you came there to read. Wikipedia defines “Beat (music)” as follows:

The beat is the basic unit of time in music, the pulse of the mensural level (or beat level). In popular use, the beat can refer to a variety of related concepts including: tempo, meter, rhythm and groove. In hip hop and R&B music, the term ‘beat’ commonly refers to the non-vocal layer of the song not including instrumentals, which is frequently based on a looped recording of a drum-rhythm. Much music is characterized by a repeating sequence of stressed and unstressed beats (often called “strong” and “weak”) and divided into measures organized by time signature and tempo indications.

Well, that’s certainly exciting.

The beat seems kind of like the Tao. The beat that can be named is not the eternal beat. I think it’s just something that we know. It’s a basic body and brain thing. (Is that a cerebellum thing? It’s best that I not spend too much time thinking of neuroanatomy — studying that shit was one of the worst semesters of my life.) It’s like pornography in the sense that you know it when you hear it. It’s what makes you shake your ass. It’s what you hear and like before you realize you like it. I’m a big fan of sauce on pizza. The beat in a song is like the sauce on a pizza. If I have a pizza without enough sauce, I want more sauce to the point it’s like feeling completely parched after hiking to the top of a mountain on a super-hot day when you didn’t bring enough water. If I listen to a bunch of, like, guitar rock, I want more beat. I’m thirsty for it.

It’s like this:

So maybe the beat is something you just know. Maybe you can take it for granted. But then I realize there are rules we have for Soren (seriously, we have a written list) and they’re super-obvious things but things we might have to tell him just to be careful. (For example: Wear a condom. No face tattoos. No meth. Don’t hurt other people or animals.)

I guess the beat isn’t something that can be explained in words. I mean, it can, as evidenced by the Wikipedia quote above. But shit like “the pulse of the mensural level” sort of kills the fun of the beat and, ugh, sounds kind of, um, period-y.

The best way to learn about the beat is to experience it. Fortunately, Soren loves that. He loves music and can’t help but dance or at least bob his head when he hears it. (I’m guessing most kids do this?) His latest thing, when music stops, is to do the sign for “more” and say, “Dew song?!” (For some reason, he says “dew” instead of “more” and “circle” instead of “crayon.”) So he’ll learn from experience, which I suppose is the best way to learn.