In music duration is an amount of time or a particular time interval: how long or short a note, phrase, section, or composition lasts. A note may last less than a second, while a symphony may last more than an hour. One of the fundamental features of rhythm, or encompassing rhythm, duration is also central to meter and musical form.
The concept of duration can be further broken down into those of beat and meter, where beat is seen as (usually, but certainly not always) a 'constant', and rhythm being longer, shorter or the same length as the beat. Pitch may even be considered a part of duration. In serial music the beginning of a note may be considered, or its duration may be (for example, is a 6 the note which begins at the sixth beat, or which lasts six beats?).
Durations, and their beginnings and endings, may be described as long, short, or taking a specific amount of time. Often duration is described according to terms borrowed from descriptions of pitch. As such, the duration complement is the amount of different durations used, the duration scale is an ordering (scale) of those durations from shortest to longest, the duration range is the difference in length between the shortest and longest, and the duration hierarchy is an ordering of those durations based on frequency of use.
Durational patterns are the foreground details projected against a background metric structure, which includes meter, tempo, and all rhythmic aspects which produce temporal regularity or structure. Duration patterns may be divided into rhythmic units and rhythmic gestures (Winold, 1975, chap. 3). However, they may also be described using terms borrowed from the metrical feet of poetry: iamb (weak-strong), anapest (weak-weak-strong), trochee (strong-weak), dactyl (strong-weak-weak), and amphibrach (weak-strong-weak), which may overlap to explain ambiguity.
- Winold, Allen (1975). "Rhythm in Twentieth-Century Music" (chapter 3), Aspects of Twentieth-Century Music. Delone and Wittlich (eds.). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0-13-049346-5.
- Cooper and Meyer (1960). The Rhythmic Structure of Music, . University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-11522-4. Cited in Winold (1975, chapter three).