Music Theory


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Music Theory - Time signature



In music, time signature will tell you how many beats there are for every measure. This can be found right after the clef, which is usually 3/4 or 4/4. In classical music, 4/4 is the most used time signature; wherein, it is called ‘common time’ due to the composers’ frequent use of it.

There are two numbers for each time signature that have their own functions:

The Top Number

This will dictate how many beats there are in the measure. For example, in common time (4/4 time signature), there will be 4 beats; in 3/4 time signature, there will be 3 beats; and in 2/4 time signature, there will be 2 beats. The common values used are 4, 3, 2, and 6.

The Bottom Number

This will dictate the value of beats for each note used in every measure. For example, in common time, a quarter note will equal to 1 beat because ¼ of 4 is equal to 1; a half note will amount to 2 beats, and so on. Common values used in the bottom number are 4, 2, and 8.

Reminder: While whole notes may not exactly be equal to the beats dictated by the top number, a single one is commonly used by composers to tell you that it will last for the whole duration of a measure. Usually whole note rests are used in cases like these.

It is a fact that time signatures can be used to simplify pieces of music. However, in certain cases it is used to aid in getting the rhythm correctly. For example, any waltz will use 3/4 time signatures with an accentuation on every first beat of every measure that is responsible of giving that ‘waltz effect’ to it.

Moreover, the way the music is notated affects a player’s or composer’s way of understanding the piece of music. To explain further, while a music piece of 3/4 time signature can be rewritten in 3/8 time signature easily by correctly changing the note values, it can get a bit more difficult for the player to read it. Not to mention the rhythm will differ marginally depending on the piece’s marked tempo.

Mixed Time Signatures

There are cases when a composer uses more than one time signature for a musical piece. Although this may cause an irregularity in the feel of the rhythm, it is specifically used only to accommodate the notes in a particular section.

In conclusion, a time signature’s purpose is to aid the player’s feel of the piece’s rhythm. Logically speaking, though, it is used to determine the amount of beats per measure that ensures regularity in the music’s rhythm. When you are a beginner, sticking to pieces that have 4/4, 3/4, and 2/4 time signatures are better at first, because these are the ones that are the easiest to understand. This will give you a better understanding and feel of musical rhythms. Not to mention that it is easier to follow a metronome in these time signatures.



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