Zoomusicologists are just now beginning to understand the enormous influence non-human animal music has had on the development of human animal music. The three traditional aspects of music―melody, harmony, and rhythm―are not uniquely human at all, and were in fact copied from our fellow animal musicians.
Songbirds showed mankind how to whistle melody, in Major and Minor scales, while horses (and other domestic quadrupeds) helped steady the rhythms of the human heart and the instinctual drive to drum, by throwing down a 4/4 beat.
Humans are born to drum, before they could even talk, they slapped the membranophones of their own bodies, as a form of communication, just like other primates. Gorillas punch paradiddles into their chests. Chimpanzees drum on tree trunks. Rhesus macaque monkeys are known to bang rhythmically on their cages. Why even rats like to tap out little paw beats on the ground.
All of the various drums of a modern day rock kit are just lying around the Earth, waiting to be picked up and played. Walk into any forest, pick up a pair of sticks, and head over to a log drum and start hitting. Try scraping some rocks together. Stir that rhythmic salad with small circular steps in the dirt, just like brushes on a snare drum. Need some cymbals? Just go find a small body of water and splash those crashes. Wait for a good storm, and we be jammin’ with the Gods.
4/4 Legs good, 2/4 Legs good too
But where in all of the chaotic rumblings of the sky and sea, did a steady beat finally emerge? The birds would be no help with establishing time and tempo, as their songs were spurtive and free, with much of the music found in the rests; between the notes. Insect musicians might have inspired some, as many stridulators like crickets, chirp in an even pulsing beat, but in a field, or a forest, where the insect choruses thicken, their beats smear into a single rhythmless drone.
Early man would hear her own heart, shuffling time along slowly at a Larghetto tempo, establishing down-beat and up-beat with a “lub, dub” iambic pattern. Her own ambulation would establish a basic cut-time marching beat feel, but human feet are soft and can barely compete with the cloven rim shots of quadrupeds. Plus, humans are bipedal and walk in a 2/2 time signature.
The horse and her four gaits, clopping passed at a steady 4/4 time on four legs, walking Andante and galloping Allegro, originated the schizophonic delusion that a divine drumming presence pounded forth from all things, the animals themselves, and the Earth itself, in a 4-beat measure.
Today we’re going to learn all about Hipporhythmics, a branch of Eurythmy. ‘Hippo’, as in horse, not hippopotamus. We will see how the four legs of a moving quadruped create distinct rhythmic patterns and tempos. Then we’ll transcribe their gaits into human drum beats, playable with four limbs on a modern day rock drum kit. In other words, we’ll try to play drums like a horse. Just turn your speakers to a comfortable volume, and click on the black noteheads.
The first horse beat is known as the Walk. At slower tempos, the Walk sounds like a shuffle, and at faster tempos, the Walk sounds like a straight and even roll of 16th notes.
The horse walks by stepping on her hind leg, followed on the same side by the front leg, and then repeated on the opposite side (Right Hind, Right Front, Left Hind, Left Front). The front legs provide the down beats, while the hind legs provide up-beats. This shuffle beat is exactly like the swung tattoo of our hearts. Clock time, at 60 beats per minute, matches the tempo of our hearts, as well as that of a slow ambling horse.
The Trot is a little more up-tempo than the Walk, and fits into a 2/4 time signature like our own two-legged gait. However, because of the fast tempo, the feel is straight (like a fast walk) and not swung like the Walk Shuffle.
The horse trots in diagonal leg pairs, stepping on her hind leg and the opposite front leg at the same time, followed by the other hind leg and the opposite front leg (Right Hind + Left Front, Left Hind + Right Front). The trot, at 90 to 120 bpm, is the cut-time of human heart beats and clock beats.
The Canter is distinguishable from the 4-beat Walk, and the 2-beat Trot, by virtue of its 3 beats. The time signature can still be anything―4/4, 2/4, or 1/1―but the feel is straight. The down-beat is preceded by two 16th notes, sounding like the classic “William Tell Overture”. In poetry, this metrical foot of two short syllables, followed by a long syllable, is called an ‘anapest’.
In the Canter, the horse steps down on a hind leg, followed by the other hind leg and the opposite front leg at the same time, and finally accented with the other front leg (Right Hind, Left Hind + Right Front, Left Front).
The last horse gait is the up-tempo Gallop. The Gallop is a steady triplet pattern with a rest in between. As the horse moves faster and the tempo increases, the rest in between triplets also increases in duration. This horse beat is of particular importance to the development of human drumming, as it showcases how lickety-quick tempos can be broken up into a swing or shuffle feel―with blazing 3-legged triplets on the up-beats, leading into a swift 1-legged down beat. It is similar to the classic katydid triplet.
The horse gallops just like the canter, except the second beat is split into two. Leading with the Right Hind, she steps down on the Left Hind, followed by the Right Front, and ending on the Left Front.
So there you have it―the four horse beats of the apocalypse. The Walk inspired 4/4 time signatures, while the Trot revealed cut-time and straight feel. The Canter, increased the tempo further, and cemented the steady even 16th note feel, with strong representative up and down-beats. The Gallop, took the shuffling heart beat, and shredded it over fast tempos, straight feels, and 4/4 times.
How to Play Drums like a Horse
If you are non-local and can’t take our weekly Hipporhythmics class at the VFW, then feel free to take advantage of our free instructional home widget below. Just take your feet and your hands and use them to stomp the floor and slap your hams respectively. Using Hipporhythmics, we can absorb the horse’s power, almost as if we were eating the horses themselves! Children taught Hipporhythmics at an early age (like really early [intrauterine even]), can hambone twice as fast as the other kids, and a million times faster than your grandpa―Juba the Kid.
That Gallop Beat is particularly nasty, syncopated amongst the 4 limbs. Try running that for a mile at 130 beats per minute. If you can, you’re faster than a horse! And better at drums too!
John Cage called it the ‘art of noise’, but then his most famous song is four and half minutes of silence. The “noise” part seems a little too much like a Duchamp toilet Fountain, and the “art” part is a little too je ne sais fart.
Actually, Music is a wide spread phenomenon in several living species apart from man, which calls into question any definition of music, and more widely that of man and her culture, as well as the idea we have of the animal herself.
So, we’ll just call it some kind of emotional sound, for now. Emo-sound. Yeah; that’s good.
Afterall, music doesn’t even have to be conscious. Take a line from DJ Drowsy Dream: “I make music in ma’ sleep / Spittin’ Z’s and snorin’ leafs”.
I hope you enjoyed this bout with pseudoscience and musical hallucination. If you’d like to see Hipporhythmics taught in public schools, please donate to the Los Doggies Musical Literacy Foundation. Thank you.