Term 1 Theory Lessons & Quiz

4 Time Signatures


We know that the beat is the steady speed of the music. Pulse is the way that the beats are organized according to a pattern of strong beats. A good thing about most music is that it's very predictable. A piece of music usually only has one speed and the pulse stays the same throughout the entire piece. Of course, there are always exceptions to this, but let's keep things simple for now.

Time Signatures

time signature is a musical marking that tells a musician in one glance what the beat and pulse of the music will be. It is written right at the beginning of the piece, directly after the clef on the staff.

The most common time signature is called "four-four." It's so common, in fact, that we sometimes call it common time. It looks like this. It's sort of like a fraction, except there is no line between the top and bottom number.

The top number tells us how many beats there are in each measure.

The bottom number tells us what kind of note represents the beat.

In this example, the bottom number is 4. That means that a quarter note will receive one beat.

The top number is 4, so that means each measure will contain 4 beats. However, this doesn't necessarily mean it will have only 4 notes in it. A whole note is worth 4 beats, so the measure could be filled up with only 1 whole note. If there are eighth or sixteenth notes involved, the measure could contain many notes indeed. Ultimately, they all need to add up to 4 beats in total.

Common time can also be shown with a C instead of the numbers.

Other Time Signatures

There are many different time signatures. Some you will see more often than others. These are two other common time signatures that you might encounter.

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