Because I can't input music notes I'll use the following letters to represent them.
1 = whole note
2 = half note
4 = quarter note
8 = eighth note
S = sixteenth note
T = thirty-second note
. = dotted note (e.g. 1. = dotted whole note)
| = measure line
We all know the typical 4/4 timing. It's simple, four beats per measure, quarter note gets the beat. Thats the beginning. We also know that it is known as common time, represented on staff music as "C". Here is an example of 4/4:
Now can also cut this in half, which would be 2/2. Correctly named it's called cute time. This is represented on staff music as "C" with a line running down the middle. Of course, two beats per measure, half note gets the beat. Example of 2/2:
You can go on forever staying in multiples of two. More Examples:
Counting in these sort of timings is usually simple. For example in 4/4 you would count in your head, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4 etc. For 2/4 you would count, 1-2, 1-2 etc. Sometimes for larger meters (e.g. 8/16) musicians will typically group them in fours. They will count in their head 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, although they actually only just completed one measure.
Now a little more interesting we get into timings such as 3/4. Usually these were mostly (not only) waltz's. Same concept as before the top number, in this case three, is the amount of beats and the bottom number, in this case four, is the note that gets the beat. So 3/4 would be three beats per measure and the quarter note gets the beat. Example:
Just as before you can go through all multiples of three. (note: you may only use certain numbers on the bottom. (e.g. 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.)) Examples:
Typically when counting these meters, musicians think in groups of threes. 1-2-3, 1-2-3.
Now lets get a little more complex. There are other types of meters that do not fit into these two categories simply because they are not multiples of either 2 or 3. One example of these would be 5/4. That would be five beats per measure, quarter note gets the beat. Example:
Other examples of this type of meter:
Usually these are counted depended on the context or feel of the line being played. For example, if the song calls for it, 5/4 could be counted as 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, or even counted as 1-2-1-2-3, 1-2-1-2-3.
Now we get into a subject not many have heard of. Have you ever seen a time signature look like this before?:
This is a combination of two meters in one measure. The above meter would look something like this example:
4 + 3
Yep, in the middle of a measure you could completely change meter, and every measure repeats as such. Here are some more examples:
2 + 3
7 + 4
Now you might look at the first example and think, oh well why can't you just say it's 8/4 and call it a night. Typically when this sort of meter is used they use it to indicate how the composers wants you to count the measure. Counting can affect the feel and also help accent proper notes. That example would be counted as written: 1-2-1-2-3. The second exampled would could be counted as 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-1-2-3-4 or 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-1-2-3-4 or even 1-2-1-2-1-2-3-1-2-1-2.
I hope you enjoyed my lesson, if not I apologize. I also apologize for any typos, especially in the examples.