Even non-musicians have a general concept of time signature, or meter--how many beats are in a measure. Everyone taps their toes to music. Musicians take that a step further—where is the pulse in a measure?
Let’s see if I can make this sensible to non-musicians. Every measure has beats of equal time, sometimes two, sometimes three, sometimes four or more—that’s what you tap your foot to. But each beat is NOT equal in quality, in how strong it is. The first beat of every measure, no matter what the meter, is the strongest. In triple meter, it is the only strong beat, so we count 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, etc. That means that while there may be three beats in the measure, there is only one strong pulse per measure. We would never count 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3, with each beat receiving the same stress. Just try counting the two different methods a couple of times and feel the difference.
Now imagine you are watching two couples doing a waltz, the quintessential triple meter composition. The first couple, using the first method with only the first beat accented, will appear lighter than air, swirling around as that first (and only) strong beat propels them forward to the next measure and the next and the next all around the dance floor. The second couple, using the every-beat-gets-a-push method might as well be marching, complete with army boots. When one of my fellow students in choral directing either could not feel the difference himself, or could not get the choir (his fellow conducting students) to perform it properly, our professor would insist that he use a rolling beat pattern. You “roll the gospel chariot” but with your right hand only, feeling beat number one at the bottom of each roll, in effect a one-beat pattern. If the choir cannot see you beating out each beat in the measure, they are less likely to stomp on each beat, and more likely to sing with a forward motion—singing horizontally with a forward impetus toward the next measure and the next, instead of vertically, stomp, stomp, stomp on each word of the song.
So now you have had your music lesson for the day, what of it? Just this: sometimes we go through our lives as Christians plodding downward with all our momentum lost on each step, instead of joyfully waltzing our way along the road to Heaven. It becomes all about following the rules for the sake of following the rules, instead of becoming someone new, living a life with purpose and a destination in mind.
Do you know how fast to sing a song in triple meter? You should be able to sing four measures in one breath without gasping at the end of those four measures. Sometimes with our plodding along I forget the first word of the phrase before I even get to the last. It isn’t about going faster; it’s about singing with understanding. When you sing with the proper accent in the proper place it’s much easier to pay attention to what you are singing and edify yourself and everyone else, the whole point to singing in the first place.
And when we just plod through life we tend to lose purpose as well. 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2. Would you even notice if you stopped in the middle of a measure? And in life would you even notice if you lost sight of the goal? Suddenly the point of it all slips away from you and all this plodding becomes more than you can bear. When you keep rules just for the sake of keeping rules, or out of habit and tradition, you lose your sense of purpose, and hope and joy goes flying out the window along with any meaning you thought your life might have had. If something does not change, you will eventually give up.
Keep that lilt in your life. Know why you are doing what you are doing. Your faith must be your own, not something handed down through the generations. Your worship must be real, not rote practice. You must become someone else, not the same old person who just happens to sit somewhere special every Sunday morning. That sense of direction will lighten your step and propel you to a place you want to be. And you can enjoy the trip itself a whole lot more. 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3…
I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore, Psa 16:8-11.