To understand music rhythm, the quarter note is our guide. He is the foot-tapping, neck-bobbing, rhythm-roadie that all rhythms are based on.
Most music is played “in tempo” with a steady beat. This beat is where you feel the music, like when your toes tap. If you ever played in the school marching band, you marched “in time” with this beat. It is recurring, steady & regular – like a clock ticking.
I’m calling this beat or pulse the Quarter note. It is felt and counted “on the beat”. When marching, there is one step for every quarter count. Every time your foot hits the ground, it is a “downbeat”.
Likewise, when you lift your leg, there is a moment when your knee is highest called the “upbeat”. You have now divided 1 beat into 2 equal parts: The downbeat and the upbeat.
If you can divide a quarter into 2 parts, it makes sense that you can divide it into other note values(rhythms) as well. All the other rhythms… 8ths, 16ths, 32nds, etc., are divisions of this important note.
The Family Tree of Rhythm comes from a single Trunk… Quarter Notes.
I can hear the music theory scholars yelling, “that’s not always true… what about 2/2, 6/8 and other time signatures where the quarter note doesn’t get one beat”. Call 911. Maybe even the Musician’s Union… they’ll send someone right out.
There are exceptions, but this concept is a good place to start.