4 time signature: here there are three (3) quarter-notes (4) per measure.
The time signature (also known as meter signature, metre signature, bar signature, ormeasure signature) is a notational convention used in Western musical notation to specify how many beats are in each bar and which note value constitutes one beat. In a musical score, the time signature appears at the beginning of the piece, as a time symbol or stacked numerals, such as or 3
4(read common time and three four time, respectively), immediately following the key signature or immediately following the clef symbol if the key signature is empty. A mid-score time signature, usually immediately following a barline, indicates a change of meter.
There are various types of time signatures, depending on whether the music follows simple rhythms or involves unusual shifting tempos, including: simple (such as 3
4 or 4
4), compound (e.g., 9
8 or 12 <big>Big text</big>2/4 can be counted out within 6/8 as well:
123 456 …
…both same tempo, just more or less physical movement by player/drummer!
- 1 Simple time signatures
- 2 Compound time signatures
- 3 Beat and time
- 4 Most frequent time signatures
- 5 Complex time signatures
- 6 Mixed meters
- 7 Variants
- 8 Irrational meters
- 9 Early music usage
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Simple time signatures[edit source | editbeta]
Simple time signatures consist of two numerals, one stacked above the other:
- The lower numeral indicates the note value that represents one beat (the beat unit).
- The upper numeral indicates how many such beats there are in a bar.
The most common simple time signatures are 2
4, and 4
Notational variations in simple time[edit source | editbeta]
A semicircle, or , is sometimes used for 4
4 time, also called common time or imperfect time. The symbol is derived from a broken circle used in music notation from the 14th through 16th centuries, where a full circle represented what today would be written in 3
2 or 3
4 time, and was called tempus perfectum (perfect time). The symbol , a semicircle with a vertical line through is also a carry-over from the notational practice of late-Medieval and Renaissance music, where it signified tempus imperfectum diminutum (diminished imperfect time)—more precisely, a doubling of the speed, or proportio dupla, in duple meter. In modern notation, it is used in place of 2
2 and is called alla breve or, colloquially, cut time or cut common time.
Compound time signatures[edit source | editbeta]
In compound meter, subdivisions of the main beat (the upper number) split into three, not two, equal parts, so that a dotted note (half again longer than a regular note) becomes the beat unit. Compound time signatures are named as if they were simple time signatures, in which the one-third part of the beat unit is the beat, so the top number is commonly 6, 9 or 12 (multiples of 3). The lower number is most commonly an 8 (an eighth-note): as in 9
8 or 12
An example[edit source | editbeta]
4 is a simple signature that represents three quarter notes. It has a basic feel of (Bold denotes a stressed beat):
- one two three (as in a waltz)
- Each quarter note mightcomprise two eighth-notes (quavers) giving a total of six such notes, but it still retains that three-in-a-bar feel:
- one and two and three and
8: Theoretically, this can be thought of as the same as the six-quaver form of 3
4 above with the only difference being that the eighth note is selected as the one-beat unit. But whereas the six quavers in 3
4 had been in three groups of two, 6
8 is practically understood to mean that they are in two groups of three, with a two-in-a-bar feel (Bold denotes a stressed beat):
- one and a, two and a
Beat and time[edit source | editbeta]
Time signatures indicating two beats per bar (whether it is simple or compound) are called duple time; those with three beats to the bar aretriple time. To the ear, a bar may seem like one singular beat. For example, a fast waltz, notated in 3
4 time, may be described as being one in a bar. Terms such as quadruple (4), quintuple (5), and so on are also occasionally used.
Actual beat divisions[edit source | editbeta]
As mentioned above, though the score indicates a 3
4 time, the actual beat division can be the whole bar, particularly at faster tempos. Correspondingly, at slow tempos the beat indicated by the time signature could in actual performance be divided into smaller units.
Interchangeability, rewriting meters[edit source | editbeta]
On a formal mathematical level the time signatures of, e.g., 3
4 and 3
8 are interchangeable. In a sense, all simple triple time signatures, such as 3
2, etc.—and all compound duple times, such as 6
16 and so on, are equivalent. A piece in 3
4 can be easily rewritten in 3
8, simply by halving the length of the notes. Other time signature rewritings are possible: most commonly a simple time signature with triplets translates into a compound meter.
Though formally interchangeable, for a composer or performing musician, different time signatures often have different connotations. First, a smaller note value in the beat unit implies a more complex notation, which can affect ease of performance. Second, beaming affects the choice of actual beat divisions. It is, for example, more natural to use the quarter note/crotchet as a beat unit in 6
4 or 2
2 than the eight/quaver in 6
8 or 2
4. Third, time signatures are traditionally associated with different music styles—it might seem strange to notate a rock tune in 4
8 or 4
Stress and meter[edit source | editbeta]
For all meters, the first beat (the downbeat, ignoring any anacrusis) is usually stressed (though not always, for example in reggae where theoffbeats are stressed); in time signatures with four groups in the bar (such as 4
4 and 12
8), the third beat is often also stressed, though to a lesser degree. This gives a regular pattern of stressed and unstressed beats, though notes on stressed beats are not necessarily louder or more important.
Most frequent time signatures[edit source | editbeta]
|Simple time signatures|
|Common time: widely used in most forms of Western popular music. Most common time signature in rock, blues, country, funk, and pop|
|Alla breve, cut time: used for marches and fast orchestral music. Frequently occurs in musical theater. Sometimes called in 2, but may be notated in 4|
|Never found in early music (which did not use numeric time signatures), and rare since 1600, though Brahms and other composers used it occasionally|
|Used for polkas or marches|
|Used for waltzes, minuets, scherzi, country & western ballads, R&B, sometimes used in pop|
|Also used for the above, but usually suggests higher tempo or shorter hypermeter|
|Compound time signatures|
|Double jigs, polkas, sega, salegy, tarantella, marches, barcarolles, Irish jigs,loures, and some rock music|
|Compound triple time, used in triple (“slip”) jigs, otherwise occurring rarely (The Ride of the Valkyries, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, and the final movement of the Bach Violin Concerto in A minor (BWV 1041) are familiar examples.Debussy’s Clair de lune and Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune (opening bars) are in 9
|Also common in slower blues (where it is called a shuffle) and doo-wop; also used more recently in rock music. Can also be heard in some jigs like The Irish Washerwoman. This is also the time signature of the Movement II By the Brookof Beethoven’s Symphony No 6 (the Pastoral)|
Video samples for the most frequent time signatures[edit source | editbeta]
For larger versions of the videos, click play, then go to More than About this file
Complex time signatures[edit source | editbeta]
Signatures that do not fit the usual duple or triple categories are called complex,asymmetric, irregular, unusual, or odd—though these are broad terms, and usually a more specific description is appropriate. The term odd meter, however, sometimes describes time signatures in which the upper number is simply odd rather than even, including 3/4 and 9/8. These more complex meters are common in some non-Western music, but rarely appeared in formal written Western music until the 19th century. The first deliberate quintuple meter pieces were apparently published in Spain between 1516 and 1520, though other authorities reckon that theDelphic Hymns to Apollo (one by Athenaeus is entirely in quintuple meter, the other by Limenius predominantly so), carved on the exterior walls of the Athenian Treasury at Delphi in 128 BC, are probably earlier. The third movement (Larghetto) of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 1 (1828) is an early, but by no means the earliest, example of 5
4 time in solo piano music. Reicha’s Fugue 20 from his Thirty-six Fugues, published in 1803, is also for piano and is in 5
8. The waltz-like second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony, often described as a limping waltz, is a notable example of 5
4 time in orchestral music. Examples from the 20th century include Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War andNeptune, the Mystic (both in 5
4) from the orchestral suite The Planets, Paul Hindemith’s Fugue Secunda in G,(5
8) from Ludus Tonalis, the ending of Stravinsky’s Firebird (7
4), the fugue from Heitor Villa-Lobos‘s Bachianas Brasileiras No. 9 (11
8) and the Mission Impossible theme byLalo Schifrin (also in 5
In the Western popular music tradition, unusual time signatures occur as well, with progressive rock in particular making frequent use of them. The use of shifting meters in The Beatles‘ Strawberry Fields Forever (1967) and the use of quintuple meter in their Within You, Without You(1967) are well-known examples, as is Radiohead‘s Paranoid Android (includes 7
Paul Desmond‘s jazz composition Take Five, in 5
4 time, was one of a number of irregular-meter compositions that The Dave Brubeck Quartetplayed. They played other compositions in 11
4 (Eleven Four), 7
4 (Unsquare Dance)—and 9
8 (Blue Rondo à la Turk), expressed as 2+2+2+3
8. This last is an example of a work in a signature that, despite appearing merely compound triple, is actually more complex.
However, such time signatures are only unusual in most Western music. Traditional music of the Balkan Peninsula, popularly referred to asthe Balkans (a geographical and cultural region of Southeast Europe), use such meters extensively. The region has its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch from the east of Bulgaria to the very east of Serbia. Bulgarian dances, for example, including forms with 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 22, 25 and other numbers of beats per measure. These rhythms are notated as additive rhythms based on simple units, usually 2, 3 and 4 beats, though the notation fails to describe the metric “time bending” taking place, or compound meters. For example, the Bulgarian Sedi Donka, consists of 25 beats divided 7+7+11, where 7 is subdivided 3+2+2 and 11 is subdivided 2+2+3+2+2 or 4+3+4. SeeVariants below.
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