What do Adele, the Roaring 20s, and early Rock & Roll have in common?

Have you heard Adele’s song “Hello” yet? It’s interesting to see a song instantly resonate so strongly with a whole generation of listeners.  Part of the reason is because Adele herself is so beloved by her fans, who have been eagerly waiting for her to release new music for quite some time now. Another reason is that the lyrics and video seem to have struck an emotional chord with so many people. Like her previous hit ballads “Someone Like You” and “Skyfall,” “Hello” is another instant (and well-deserved!) classic for Adele.

While listening to the song for the first time, I noticed another reason I think the song is so immediately likeable. A musical reason.

To hear for yourself, listen to the beginning of “Hello.” (The song actually starts at 1:14 in the video.) Pay particular attention to the rhythm in the piano part. Now listen to this.

Do you notice any similarity? It may not be obvious at first, but the basic rhythm is the same. It’s called a “Charleston beat,” after the song you heard there, titled “The Charleston.”  An accent on beat 1 and a brief rest on beat 2 which is quickly followed by a “push” beat and 8th note later.

ONE-two-AND-three-four, ONE-two-AND-three-four.

This catchy rhythm permeates a huge selection of popular music of every era and style. 20s jazz, big band swing, blues, early and classic rock, latin-influenced music, and many styles up until today’s pop and hip-hop.

Here’s a famous example from the early days of rock.

So what does this do for an artist like Adele? Even though her song sounds nothing like “The Charleston” or “On Broadway,” this catchy and identifiable rhythm makes us feel comfortable. The music sounds familiar, right from the very first listen. You can change all the chords and lyrics you like, but a Charleston rhythm will make a song seem somehow more comfortable and familiar to many listeners, even though they’ve never heard this particular song before. At any rhythm.

Over the past 100 years, the Charleston rhythm has been used in thousands of songs in many genres of music. Whether she was thinking of this or not, Adele tapped into a powerful musical tradition with “Hello.” And the Charleston rhythm will continue to be a big factor in many types of music for some time to come. (Stay tuned for the next 100 years!)

Here are 10 ways to improve and invigorate your piano playing. Good luck!

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