MicroRhythm - What it is and Why Nerdwriter Got It All Wrong

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Micro-rhythm is a term used to describe the "wonky" rhythms found in musical traditions like Samba da Roda, Morrocan Gnawa, the Viennese Waltz, as well as in neo-soul like D'Angelo and jazz musicians like Errol Garner and Malcolm Braff and Jacob Collier. I take you through some examples as well as looking a recent mention of the term in a Nerdwriter video, which managed to get most of the facts all wrong! Support the Channel on Patreon:

Morrocan Gnawa Samba da Roda d'angelo errol garner gnawa jacob collier malcolm braff micro-rhythm microrhythm music theory nerdwriter viennese waltz

The more I watch Nerdwriter, the more I realize that his videos aren't as well researched as one might expect from the academic tone and professional presentation.\nIt seems to me that even when he does good research he's approaching it with the wrong mind-set. I always get the impression that he goes into a topic with a pre-existing opinion and tries to confirm it with facts, as opposed to letting the facts speak for themselves. I wouldn't be surprised if there are many essays on his cutting-room floor because the facts didn't end up serving his thesis.\n\nI hope he works on this in the future. Diving deeper into his topics (and consulting experts directly) and/or making his lack of expertise and authority on topics more explicit would work wonders.
Adam Leban
Honestly Nerdwriter is endlessly frustrating to me because it’s completely banal breakdowns of things but dressed up as intellectual analyses. I’m still mad about his “intertextuality” video where he considers the term analogous to “fan service”
Adam Neely
Ahaha, yeah, I've stumbled onto Malcolm Braff's music and website before, and it honestly baffled me then, as it does now. The harmonics of rhythm stuff is nuts!
Great educative video as always! As a Moroccan native - and a music theory pleb - I agree with your statement that rythms such as those in gnawa are mostly acquired by being immersed in the culture. The approximative notations you came up with are indeed very close to the actual thing (3rd and 4th lines). Still, there are other rhythmic variations played on he qraqebs (Krakebs) For instance, on some faster-paced pieces or passages the krakebs usually play 4 beats, but I feel like there's always a tendency to slightly elongate the first beat. Anyway, thanks again for the enjoyable education!
Ivan Wyschnegradsky, an avant garde Russian French composer, wrote about his personal issues with the strict, mathematical division in Western music, how there geared so well toward western dance patterns but at the same time they're incredibly restrictive when attempting to recreate any sort of organic Rhythm, like in the examples you're giving, and are nearly impossible both to write down and to also perform faithfully. He has a paper titled The Liberation of Rhythm, which I crudely translated from French into English, and it was a very fascinating article. If you're ever interested I would love to email it to you.
Appa Rillo
Educational and entertaining as always!
B7 Music Studio
I wonder if one could notate micro-rhythms in a similar way to micro-tonal music - some kind of notation above the notes, perhaps something somewhat subjective like \
John Bonham played a number of his grooves with that kind of feel. For instance, his drums on \
Very clearly presented, thank you! I am surprised you did not bring up \
Benjamin Feldman
I wonder how much of this is intentional and how much serendipity. Control or lack of control.
Caio Jorge
Am I right in understanding the inegalité present in French baroque music interpretation as a manifestation of a kind of micro rhythm? By the way, a video on this subject would be very interesting.
Calum Gideon
I love your videos, stuff like this is really inspiring to watch and gets my head racing with ideas, even though it's just a critique of someone else's inaccurate portrayal of a concept. You explain things so well. I always thought microrhythms were just a fancy way to say swing, but the way you explain makes it sound more like a much smaller off grid feeling then swing is. Which makes a lot more sense when I hear it.
Chris Ashman
I feel like I've heard Deadmau5 use the technique you're talking about where you move the percentage of the swing
I dont think you really explained what he got wrong, i feel like you just wanted to put his name in the video. He said the note falling milliseconds before the beat is use of micro-rhythm, and although he didn't use musical notation with a crazy bpm to demonstrate it, thats basically what you said at the start. The point you disputed was about its relation to the commercial viability of the track, which isn't really relevant.
The deviation tends to happen because of mechanical reasons. If you do this on a pandeiro, you're limited by how fast you can shake it on the hand that holds it while executing the strokes with the other one (you can't to both at once 98% of the time). Since the pandeiro is the instrument that often leads the others in sambas, they all follow suit. If the Gnawna follows the same thing, you can see how that shaker-esque instrument could have delayed beats based on how you play it.
David DiMuzio
Great video. Didn't understand it all, but it was super interesting :)
I actually have a composition idea with a kind of microrhythmic Feature in it now... a melody where the notes are sometimes 5, sometimes 6 eigth notes long, quite fast though, but noticeable (sounds more difficult than it is...)\nUpdate: the piece is almost done, i'm just finishing of the coda and then adding some Details here and there\nUpdate: I'm done
I think everybody likes to get super technical with topics like this, and people will say nerdwriter has no idea what he’s talking about, but you know what? Most people don’t know anything about music.\n\nNerdwriter explains things in plain language, in a way that most people can understand, not to mention that his videos are also very well edited, and he has really great ways of keeping peoples attention. Unlike this video, which you can argue features a somewhat monotone narration using complicated music terminology, and limited editing.\n\nNerdwriter appeals to a specific crowd, like everyone else, and that’s not wrong.
Drivez Insane
I've been doing the morph stuff for a while. Now I have a way to notate it! It's specially fun to do with polyrhythms. Try 3:2 with two hands and start displacing the hand doing 2. There are many patterns just within this exercise.
Elsa Storlind
Wonderful video as usual! You go into the stuff I actually wonder about!\n\nCould I ask you - in the intro of \
Emílio Castilho Piano
I'm from Brazil. I find it interesting how you explained the early sixteenth notes (the 3rd and 4th). Usually we say that what defines the Brazilian swing is the late 2nd sixteenth note on each beat. Funny think is that the results of both ways of thinking are almost the same.
Eoghan Desmond Composer
I’ve always felt the Viennese waltz as having an early second beat rather than a delayed third beat, but that’s just me!
Fabio Zurita
There are many examples of this in south american rhythms, like saya, carnavalito, huayno, etc. and more recently i have noted it in the guaracha santiagueña too. In these cases the rhythmic cells fluctuate from a eight note triplet to a eight note-two sixteenth note modules.
Felipe Valencia P.
That Moroccan rhythm sounds to me very close to the Cumbia´s feel. Crazy how small the world actually is. Great video!
This kind of touches on why I generally just stopped enjoying Nerdwriter. He makes great videos, but seems to just copypasta what others say, and doesn't seem to really do a lot of actual research.
Grant Van Heighten
This video reminded me of a tune I heard while in college, it was called Haiku by The Ted Warren Commission. It's a bar of 5/8 then a bar of 7/8 then a bar of 5/8 again but the second bar's tempo is modulated to match the length of time of the other 2. It's hard to find the track but there is a video of Ted Warren explaining it on his channel. It's a great track too!!!
Guitar paintings
I am learning how to accompany flamenco singers and dancers and I consistently get criticism for being on the beat, as opposed to slightly behind which what good accompanying guitarists generally do.
Gustavo Ribeiro
Great video.. greetings from a brazilian samba player
Hack Music Theory
Great video, David, thank you!!! It's always such a pleasure when your notifications pop up :)
Harari Percussion
It's very exciting to think how much easier exploring new microrhythms outside of established grooves is now with the digital altering of note placements, such as what J. Dilla did
The guitar in Mexican Mariachi music does the same; it rushes the second quarter note triplet.
ah... I have refereed to this type of rhythm as oblong or egg shape rolling down hill. Flying Lotus has some extreme examples of this. Thanks for going so deep with the topic, very interesting.
This video was very informative ..and more than that....true.
Jacopo Barberis
I’m happy Nerdwriter got something wrong because I never liked any of his videos and he sounds so pretentious and full of s**t
James Rose
Awesome video !! I worked on a little web-app that aims to help people explore micro-rhythms, so thought I'd drop the link in case it helps anyone! www.cync.app :^)
James Shantz
Those rithms are super simple but for some reason white people can't seem to get them.
Excellent video. I've been using the logical editor in Cubase to create rhythms like this, but it's still very hard to notate it exactly.
Jez Burns
I’ve been writing brass parts recently (for old school style ska), trying to express a heavily ‘lagged’ feel on some of the triplets. Quickly realised writing them literally would have ended up insanely messy and complicated, so just ended up putting ‘lag the triplets’ as a direction. Watching your video has made me wonder if the lack of any accurate way to express microrhythms in notation isn’t such a bad thing (and if the kind of academic analysis you highlight isn’t just sophistry)? In that maybe the only way to really understand them is to immerse yourself in a culture of a style of music and learn by watching and listening and asking, and in that you might pick up all kinds of other subtleties in expression, rhythm and intonation until you can speak that style like a fluid, interconnected language rather than only being able speak the odd word? These kinds of things - an aural / oral tradition - are maybe what helps keep musical culture living, breathing and evolving rather than languishing in pages of books, and what make learning more exciting.. Just a thought :-)
John Horne
Nerdwriter needs to stop writing about music. He has no idea what he’s talking about.
John Sagnella
That was very cool.
Kev O'Shea
Great video. Re: Jackson. Most of that stuff was recorded in the studio separately. General practice is the drum/percussion track goes first. That's why it's not unusual to hear later instruments after the beat, as they're playing along to what they hear as opposed to setting the tempo themselves. Compare this with a live version of any song and you'll notice the difference.
I think academic analysis is what turns stuff like this into apparently complex subjects that are difficult for people to understand and use. These though are just normal rhythms. Give anyone a set of shakers and tell them to imitate the other guy and we can do it easily, and soon be playing away with the band.
Lednaw Lednaw
Brilliant introduction! Thank you
Leonardo Fernandez
Nerd Writer is an idiot with a superiority complex. All his videos are crap and nonsense filled with invented facts. Don't follow this charade of a man. He is fake news.
Luis López
Great video as usual! It made me think of another Latin American music style that uses micro-rhythms: Bolivian saya. It's similar to the Moroccan Gnawa style you showed, somewhere between triplets and a \
Matt Musician X
As a drummer who spent 16 years performing the music of Guinea, West Africa and studying with professional Guinean drummers, and considering myself at least somewhat of a jazz drummer, I find your video essays to be by far the most fascinating!!! Amazing work, Mr. Bruce. If I could go back to college again, I'd want to take classes that you teach.
Matthew Benedict
Would you consider grace notes to be microrhythmic? Could a darken release also be a form of micro rhythmic
Mick Aitch
Very interesting and thanks for introducing me to Malcolm Braff. 👍🏽
Nick Toss
I don't fully understand your problem with Nerdwriter/the paper's comparison of Brown and Jackson. There's no context for why he was \
Nick Krueger Music
I used to really love Nerdwriter’s videos, but unfortunately they seem a lot more interesting and impressive until you have some knowledge on the topic he’s covering. And it’s not entirely his fault, to be fair; he has cursory interest in a ton of topics, but expertise on very few, if any, so his channel is loaded with videos that are shallow and often biased by the thing he finds _interesting_ about the topic, rather than what's actually _true_ about it. That's usually fine if he's analyzing a painting or something (still limited by his surface-level knowledge of the subject, but not objectively incorrect) but some of his videos are so oversimplified as to be misleading (like his recent video on David Wise and the music of Donkey Kong Country, which was just frustrating to watch as someone who knows a lot about chiptune and how music was made for old video game consoles).
Not Right Music
I've been away from YT stuff, for the most part, this past month because of recently becoming a dad as well as working on some other projects. The notice of this video brought me back. I couldn't resist! Fantastic stuff David!
Obscure Machines
As pointed out in the video the difficulty is that music theory is currently limited by the language, Western notation, to be able to easily communicate the ideas of groove and feel. It’s almost easier to just pickup the feel than to try and read it off the sheet.
Pady bu
Great video! Would've been a nice time to mention J Dilla, he used microrhytmns on drum machines were people tended to drum quantized.
Pat Davey
Hello David. I am new to your channel. Thank you for the video, fascinating stuff. In reference to the samba example, if I could add another layer of complexity. I have studied samba for 10 years and trained in favelas in Rio. When performing in a rehearsal bateria of around 100 drummers in União da Ilha, what struck me most was the variety of different feels performed by each individual percussionist within the ensemble. That is to say each drummer has their own interpretation of where each of the 4 divisions lie. The character overall of the \
Peter Scartabello
Did you mean you shifted the samba a 64th note?
Pipe Organ Phile
Jacob Collier blew my mind when he talked about rhythm this way. It's the way he imports style and feel with the perfectionism of a classical musician in his music. He also has digested it from a non-classical background (meaning, he's tried hard to figure it out for himself), so that makes his music sound that much more organic. I love seeing June Lee's analyses on his music to see EXACTLY how you have to divide the beat in order to notate it, but even then, he doesn't always go for it; he simply say, \
Renato NYC
Grew up in Brasil, in a very musical family... since moving to the US, too often I encounter classically trained musicians to whom I’ve failed to explain the nuances of Samba (and even Bossa and Choro), this video should help. Thanks!
Richard McGowan
Richard Salisbury
Back in 1962 (age 20) I attended the Monterey Jazz Festival. I was a pretty new to jazz then (though not classical). I was particularly impressed by Dizzy Gillespie--whose band Lalo Schifrin had just joined as pianist--and by Dave Brubeck. I was already familiar with \
Sam Clarke
Good stuff! Something I've learnt from one of my teachers who spent some time in Korea, studying their traditional rhythms is that the rhythms comes from very specific body movements and a way of literally feeling the time and pulse. When everyone is in sync with the movements they can play these complicated difficult to write rhythms in perfect unison. Interesting stuff.
Sanjay Ghosh
The groove of this kind of rhythm reminds me of the Dhak - a kind of drum played during the Durga Puja festival in West Bengal, India.
Semantic Samuel
Don't know how I missed this video, but thank you for making it. Nerdwriter...irritates me. I used to love his channel, but over time I began to found him abrasive. His intonation and formulaic style of writing grated on me after a while. In many ways I think we're quite similar - we're both intelligent folks who are interested in a wide variety of subjects and have a cursory knowledge of them. I can hold my own talking about most things, but I'd never pretend to be an expert on all these things. I write for a living and I appreciate you can learn a lot from research, but plumbing the depths of advanced music theory to a brave thing to do. I have ABRSM Grade 8 on one instrument and Grade 5 on another. I love music, but I look at score extracts like the ones you've included here and panic a little - I would struggle to even understand conceptually, let alone play them - and so I'd never go out and make a video on microrhythms until I'm a lot more confident with my subject knowledge! \n\nNerdwriter seems to know a lot about films, and I enjoy his videos on them, but once he starts getting into language, art, politics, music, whatever there are better channels out there. What he's extremely good at is video editing, and his pacing is excellent, and you can't fault him for that. I wish he'd specialise. Bottom line is he's pretentious any not quite as smart as he thinks he is.
Skanda Rao
Carnatic percussionists make regular use of triplets, quintuplets, septuplets, and subdivisions of 9 in their solos (I have seen one mridangam player divide the beat into 11, 13, and 15 in succession, but it is a lot less common). There are a few standard rhythmic patterns for each of those. For instance, the subdivision of 9 (called sankeerna nadai) is often split into the 4-2-3 that Jacob Collier mentioned
Im not playing out of sync. Im just influenced by brazillian samba. ;)
Srirang Dhawale
Tigran Hamasyan comes to mind too. He loves doing these micro rhythms in really odd time-signatures. Check him out if you don’t know him.
Stephen Christopher
Thank you for the clarification on this matter.
Sándor Kovács
Thomas Anda
You should read more of Anne Danielsen's work. She is an expert on the topic of micro-rhythm, and she definitely knows what she's talking about. She is a professor in musicology at the University of Oslo, and one of the foremost experts on micro-rhythm. So I wouldn't be too quick in labelling her paper as a bad source. The fact that you call the use of rubato \
Vasil Belezhkov
I recomend you to chech the Bulgarian-Gypsy drummer Sasho Mihaylov (Salif Ali) who works together with Ivo Papasov's wedding band more than 40 years - he's one of my favorite examples of this so called 'micro-rhythm'
Viktor Kaganovich
Brilliant, brilliant analysis. You may also want to look at the drumming of Al Jackson with Booker T and the MG's and also with Al Green. He was very explicit about placing 2 very late while keeping other quarter notes on the grid, so to say.
Wassyl Aldais
I moved to Reunion Island almost one year ago.\nThere are two kinds of music really popular here, one is called Maloya, and the other one is called \
In the Mexican east coast we call this \
I’ve actually been wondering if there was a name for that slightly stretched samba rhythm that I hear in so much Latin pop nowadays. Coolio
Unfortunately, I think that unless Nerdwriter does stick to things he is actually an expert on, then ... well, he's really devaluing his channel. Spotting the holes in his music theory means I can no longer trust his to know about things before he makes videos on them.
Ygor Kenji de Brito Amaro
Wooooou Brasilzão well represented
Malcolm Braff is a wonderful musician and one of the most inspiring teachers I ever had. His whole concept seems difficult to grasp at first sight but it totally makes sense once you start playing and embracing those rhythms. I never was very good at it, but his idea of morphings and \
Is interesting, just after this video I realized why I have some troubles writting a couple of my last ideas, hard trying on ritardandos, accelerandos, or figthing with 16th, tresillos, etc. Could it be a generational change on the way on feeling sounds around? cause I think it is getting more and more usual to hear micro rhythm on modern music, and in many cases (like mine) even without trying to do so.
Also - and this probably shows my lack of sophistication, I can't help thinking that the stuff at the end is what people who are very skilled musicians get into when they are bored of actual music.
There's this tradition concerning Polka (I think it's bohemian tradition, but I don't know) where you (similar to the Vienna Waltz) have to play every 8th note that is NOT on a whole beat kind of too late. This also applies for two 16th notes that you then have to play late as well, creating strickter signals (that are typical for this music).\nIf everyone does this, the music gets a kinda wonky but rolling feeling. I love playing traditional music that way.
Or perhaps the emperor is naked and these musicians are keeping bad time, whether deliberately or not. Instruments like maracas require anticipation of the beat and incidentally syncopate if initiated with it. Music with enough percussion or independent improvisation is going to produce these effects. That doesn't mean they're bad; but neither does it mean they're something elegant.
dos gos
As you noted, your computer-derived MicroRythms are too straight and need to drag a bit. I suspect they are also missing some additional \
I think it is time to embrace the midi format and drop the puny score. I remember that Acid Daw had a \
Always thought of theses as either, Tuplets groove, or just different types of swing, and also you can relate all of this around the idea of metric modulation to make it more \
I've been curious about a trend that happened in the 80s/90s rave scene where samples were often arrange spuriously and rhythms/harmonics from unrelated samples would often converge to strange effect. It's still popular to play a strong beat with a slight \
As an EDM composer and jazz pianist this topic is hugely important to me. You have the best videos on the subject as well. Thank you so much!
Great video! \nYou could also notate samba feel as splitting a beat into 10 divisions as 3,2,2,3 (dotted quaver, quaver, quaver, dotted quaver within a decuplet) also I think there is a difference between a regular swing samba / gnawa and micro timing, D'angelo / Errol garner where it is not evenly uneven if that makes sense!
Hey man, I generally stay away from commenting on your videos since I don't know much about music, but after watching this one I had to leave a comment of thanks for making what you do. Your videos are well-thought out, easily understandable even for someone like myself, pleasantly edited and overall really educational and interesting, even when on niche or mostly unheard of subjects that look really difficult to explain. I love all your stuff, please keep it at!
Don't know if it should be labelled under micro-rhythm, but I recently found out that when I continuously play a snare drum a random few microseconds after the count (out of phase), while the rest of the kit is in sync with the tempo and all the other instruments, the music starts sounding really drunk. Call it 'micro-a-rhythm'. It's a cool effect.
Thank you for this great video. \
peter four
I just watch t the most important video i ever found, free at last, free at last, Eureka, hallelujah............finally......Congratulations on the analyses of what is sometimes called 'playing it cool'.
Thank you for the commentary on Nerdwrighter's Don't Stop video. I watched it and was a cross between confused and disagreed.
señor shaman
Dude, just go to a quince, or a latina girl's birthday party, get buzzed and talk to the band, or dj, or mariachi. Stevie Ray Vaughn brought this \
tom ty
as for using microrhytm in computer generated music, Ableton has the ability to load groovepools, where you upload a time-feel and have it apply to your midi clips. One could import something with the desired (samba de Roda, Gnawa) and then use it to impact the new clips.
Probably your best video yet! Great to see topics very few others are tackling