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Sormelharf Home > Rhythm > Time Signatures and Note Values

A Basic Introduction to Rhythm

Part 5: Time Signatures and Note Values

The meter of a piece of music is indicated by the time signature. The time signature is placed at the beginning of a piece of music and it consists of two numbers placed one on top of the other. The top number tells us what the meter is, and it tells us how many beats are in a measure.

We will begin with three of the most common time signatures:

Two-four Time Signature
Three-four time signature
Four-four time signature

If the top number is 2, then we are in duple meter, and there are two beats in every measure.
If the top number is 3, then we are in triple meter, and there are three beats in every measure.
If the top number is 4, then we are in quadruple meter, and there are four beats in every measure.

The bottom number in the time signature tells us what note value is equal to one beat.
Note value is the musical term for duration, or how long a note is to be played. The first note value we will learn is the quarter note, which looks like this:

Quarter Notes

When the bottom number of the time signature is 4, then each beat is equal to one quarter note.

Therefore, the following time signature means that there are 2 beats in a measure and the quarter note is equal to one beat. It is called “two-four” time.

Quarter notes in two-four time

The time signaure below means that there are 3 beats in a measure and the quarter note is equal to one beat. It is called “three-four” time.

Quarter notes in three-four time

The time signaure below means that there are 4 beats in a measure and the quarter note is equal to one beat. It is called “four-four” time.

Quarter notes in four-four time

There are several other possible time signatures, but we will focus on the ones above for now.
We will cover other time signatures later, but it is good to know that the bottom number is not always 4. There are other time signatures in which the quarter note is not equal to one beat.

The next part of our rhythm introduction explains rests in music.

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