Tempo and Rhythm

Tempo and Rhythm


Tempo and Rhythm, Acting, Acting Basics, Fear of Acting, Imagination Activities, The Body and Imagination, Imaginary Objects, Creative Imagination, Some Acting Basics,Rhythm can be defined as any regular recurring motion, symmetry or as a movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions. While rhythm most commonly applies to sound, such as music and spoken language, it may also refer to visual presentation, as timed movement through space.

It applies to any movement or procedure with uniform or patterned recurrence of a beat, accent, or the like. It is the pattern of regular or irregular pulses caused in music by the occurrence of strong and weak melodic and harmonic beats. It is the effect produced in a play, film, novel, etc., by the combination or arrangement of formal elements, as length of scenes, speech and description, timing, or recurrent themes, to create movement, tension, and emotional value in the development of the plot. It is the pattern of recurrent strong and weak accents, vocalization and silence, and the distribution and combination of these elements in speech.


The pace of the fundamental beat is called tempo. The expressions ‘slow tempo’ and ‘quick tempo’ suggest the existence of a tempo that is neither slow nor fast. ‘Moderate’z tempo is often assumed to be that of a natural walking pace (76 to 80 paces per minute) or of a heartbeat (72 per minute). The tempo of a piece of music indicated by a composer is, however, neither absolute nor final. In performance it is likely to vary according to the performer’s interpretative ideas.

Tempo (speed) refers to the slowness or fastness of the action. It hastens or draws out the action, hastens or slows up speech. When the various actions and speech with their individual speeds and timings coincide on stage, they produce a rhythm (beats).
Tempo and rhythm exist within us as well as outside us. When you are performing on stage, you may find yourself surrounded by organized chaos of various speeds and slowness. You must develop the habit of disentangling yourself from the chaos and get in touch with your own rhythm.

Not all actors participating in a scene can use the same tempo-rhythm. Even the same actor cannot use the same tempo-rhythm every time. We need to make different combinations of various speeds and measures. Only when you combine different tempo-rhythm will the performance look engaging and powerful.

The overall tempo-rhythm of a dramatic production usually happens accidentally, of its own accord. When an actor seeks a justified tempo-rhythm for his actions, he directly approaches the bank of his emotions, which is likely to respond. Tempo-rhythm is likewise important in instances of logic (for example, to determine when an actor should perform an action and in what order). Tempo-rhythm incorporates both speed and intensity. Different situations in life call for different tempo and rhythm. For instance, a person would move much more quickly when entering a hospital than he would when leaving the hospital. Or, a person is more likely to drive fast in a panic-stricken situation than during a long romantic drive.

In short, tempo refers to pace, and it can be fast, slow, or medium (as in medium paced). Rhythm means the measured flow, which includes emphasis. What are the benefits of excellent tempo-rhythm? They are actually quite similar to the benefits of music or dance. Tempo-rhythm creates mood and, for an actor, it is directly connected to feelings. A happy song generally has a fast and light tempo-rhythm, and a sad dance has a slow, heavy one. Stanislavski said the following regarding tempo rhythm: You can’t discover the right tempo-rhythm without simultaneously experiencing the feelings that correspond to it. There is an indissoluble link between tempo-rhythm and feeling, and conversely between feeling and tempo-rhythm. These are interconnected, interdependent, and interactive.

In order to understand this idea, it is necessary that you as an aspiring actor, understand the difference between external tempo-rhythm and internal tempo-rhythm. External tempo-rhythm corresponds to the actor’s physical actions. Here, tempo is the pace of the actions performed by the actor. The rhythm is the ‘relationship of movement and stillness through time and space’ (Benedetti 1998, 81).

The external tempo-rhythm and the actor’s feelings are directly linked to each other. This leads us to three conclusions:

  • It is possible for an actor to change his mood and feelings in a performance by altering the external tempo-rhythm
  • The actor’s feelings can alter the external tempo-rhythm
  • An actor may need to make adjustments in the external tempo-rhythm to do justice to the type of role he is playing. For example, if an actor is going through a particularly difficult time in his personal life when he has to play the role of a cheerful character, he will need to make adjustments in the external tempo-rhythm

Internal tempo-rhythm involves feelings and thoughts. You can safely assume that tempo-rhythm is a better gauge of a person’s state of being than their actual health. Sometimes, the external tempo-rhythm can be different from the internal one. For example, a character may need to appear romantic while their mind is full of anger. Hamlet is a good example of a character that embodies this type of dual tempo-rhythms. A variety of tempi and rhythms was important for different characters and within the line of action of each character as well. As people change, their tempi, and rhythms change, too.

It is quite possible that the inner and outer tempo rhythm conflict with each other in different situations. For example, if an actor is relaxing on a beach, both inner and outer tempo rhythms will be slow and calm. However, if the actor is in a romantic situation, the outer tempo rhythm might be calm and collected, but the inner tempo rhythm would be crazy and fast, as if panicking.

As an actor, you must remember to enhance your performance by developing an appropriate speed at which you act. We know that rhythm exists in everything from the internal process of living to the external manifestation of movement and expression.

When we consider the theory of “rhythm” in all things, the internal process of living, and the external manifestation of movement and expression (flow), or “tempo,” we may have a reference for creating a character. However, it may not be enough to regenerate only the choreographic moves (tempo) in order to discover rhythm.

To do justice to a shot, you must get in touch with and be aware of the structure as it is in life, apparent, and obvious. Yet, if you are not conscious of it, it will be, as it is to many, invisible and elusive. You should discover your unique rhythm in that particular unique experience under any given circumstances, at any particular, specific time (temporal reality). So, while it is possible to generate ’performances’ based on concrete structure and find the character in this way, it may be a better idea to jump into the stream of human consciousness, of the greater spiritual consciousness, and to listen. In other words, if you let go of the structures, the conscious mind, and the creation that you as an actor created, and just listen to the inner drum, you can transform the energy and the naturalness around and bring it to the shot. This way, you can do justice to both the shot and the audience.

There is always so much to explore and discover. Do not try too hard to define everything precisely. Do not focus all your efforts on the accurate reproduction of previously executed forms. Treat your onstage existence as only in the service of the ’external design,’ so that there is the possibility for development and living. There must always be room for the unexpected. Moreover, there must always be room for failure.

Remember that an original discovery does not come from repetition, however exhaustively you repeat it. A genuine discovery, which here means a genuine performance comes through the sensation of natural and unprompted experience in the form of the character you are playing, within circumstances that are both unique and specific to any given moment of living in performance.

The unique nature of such experience depends on mood, attitude, energy, atmosphere, expectation, psychology, many things. It is impossible to understand all of these factors before experiencing them in real time.

The real or the practical world always influences the actor process or the way he performs. It affects the atmosphere or the surrounding of the actor. It also affects the way the actor imagines an act or a scene onstage. This awareness is not logical or conscious, but rather instinctive. If you ignore your instincts, it will result in an insincere quality of character life.

You can play a very convincing and genuine role if you live and create fresh reality. You should exist within the world that the audience is in and prompt the audience to enjoy their own unique fantasy.

When the correct tempo-rhythm is revealed for any given action, the actor will spend less time trying to concentrate and more time actually achieving the required concentration level. Tempo-rhythm is likewise important in instances of logic (when a character will perform an action and in what order).

When you perform any shot, it may not be enough to use only logic. While logic is important, your actions should demonstrate the correct energy equivalent. Suppose you are enacting a scene where you are struggling to finish a sit-up exercise. Even if you are able to do this easily as a person, your character has to show the effort while sitting up if the scene demands it.

A good example of Tempo-Rhythm from a film is Jack Nicholson in James L. Brooks’ As Good As It Gets. He plays a character with obsessive-compulsive habits. When preparing for his act, Nicholson needed to rationalize his character’s behavior. How many times did he need to switch the light from on to off and back again? How many times did he need to lock and double lock the door? What action would his character perform first?

Here are some important benefits of maintaining the correct tempo-rhythm:

  • It keeps a performance truthful
  • It helps develop character emotion

Rhythm is just one more link between the inner and outer expressions. It is important to find out your rhythm and tempo first. Then play out the character in your mind and find out the tempo-rhythm required by the character. Compare both the tempos and check they are not contradicting themselves. It is important to ensure this since if your tempo competes with the tempo of the character, the performance may not ring true.

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