These are two different ways of mentally organizing heard rhythms. Metric focuses on measuring the relative duration of musical events. Figural focuses on “the grouping of performed events into phrases or figures.”
(Bamberger 1994, 135)
The following figure, adapted from Upitis, 1987a, was used by Bamberger to illustrate the distinction between metric and figural drawings. In metric drawings, symbols are used in a consistent way to indicate similar durations, while in figural drawings, similar symbols are not always indicative of similar durations.
(Smith et al 1994, 118; edited by Alex Roth)