Term 1 Theory Lessons & Quiz
3 Time Signatures
A time signature will tell you how the beats are grouped in a measure. The top number tells us how many beats there are in a each measure. When there is a 4 on the top, there are 4 beats in each measure. The bottom number tells us what kind of note represents the beat. When there is a 4 on the bottom, the quarter note receives the beat.
Time signatures are grouped together based on the meter. Simple meter means that the beats are broken or subdivided into two notes. Time signatures can also be duple, triple, or quadruple depending on how many strong beats there are in a bar. A time signature in simple meter will always have a 2, 3 or 4 for the top number.
is a simple duple meter. Simple means that the beats are subdivided into two notes. Duple means that there are 2 strong beats in each bar.
is a simple triple meter. We know what simple means. Triple means that there are 3 strong beats in each bar.
or common time is simple quadruple meter. It is quadruple because there are 4 beats in each bar.
While beats in simple meter are subdivided into groups of two, beats in compound meter are subdivided into groups of three. Songs in compound time have a really distinctive sound because the beat moves along in a lilting 3 pattern. Think of "The Farmer in the Dell" or "Irish Washerwoman" or "Sailor's Hornpipe." To demonstrate how this is written, we will examine 6/8 time. In this time signature, the bottom number 8 tells us than an eighth note receives one beat. The top number 6 tells us there are 6 beats in each bar.
The six eighth notes are divided into 2 groups of three, as represented by the red tie below the note. Since there are 3 eighth notes per beat, you could say that a dotted quarter note is equal to one beat, since 3 eighth notes equal 1 dotted quarter. This makes 6/8 a compound duple time signature. There are 2 big beats in the bar (duple) and each big beat has 3 subdivisions (compound). Any time signature with a 6 on the top is compound duple.
9/8 time is compound triple because there are 9 eighth notes in each bar, and you divide that into groups of 3. Any time signature with a 9 on the top is compound triple.
Finally, 12/8 is a compound quadruple meter because there are 12 eighth notes in each bar, and it's divided into 4 groups of 3 eighth notes. Any time signature with 12 on the top is compound triple.
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