Hello, and welcome to day nine of CPDmusic's lesson writing marathon 2010! Today we will be looking at time signatures, an essential part of music. We will examine how time signatures work, as well as examine some commonly used time signatures. Enjoy!
What is a Time Signature?
Well, obviously the first question here we need to tackle is what a time signature actually is. Well, it's actually pretty basic. You will see two numbers, one on top of the other, at the start of a piece of music, like this:
Now, this tells you two things. It tells you how many beats are in one bar of music, as well as what note is the equivalent of one beat. So, let's look at some time signatures, to determine what they are telling us.
Now, above I showed you a time signature. Here it is again:
This time signature is a four-four time signature, and is often referred to as common time, as it is the most common universal time signature in music. Now, let's use this to find out how many beats are in one bar of music, and what note is the equivalent of one beat.
Determining how many beats are in one bar is actually extremely easy. If you look at the top number, you will see that it is the number four. This tells us that there are four beats in one bar of music. Easy enough, right?
Next, we will determine what note gets one beat. This is also relatively easy. Notice how the time signature looks almost like a fraction, with one number on top of the other. Well, if you were to change the top number on this time signature to a one, what fraction would you get? Well, it's pretty basic; you would get one fourth, or one quarter. Therefore, the note that gets one beat would be a quarter note.
So, we can now say that in a piece of music in common time has four quarter notes in one bar of music (in that same sense, it could be 8 eighth notes, or two half notes) So, time signatures aren't that hard, are they?
Three-four time is also a common time signature. It is often referred to as waltz time, as it is mostly used in waltz music. A three-four time signature looks like this:
So, let's examine this time signature.
First off, we will determine how many beats are in one bar. Pretty easy, the top number is three; therefore there are three beats in one bar. Next, we would have to determine which note gets one beat. We change the top number to one, and are left with a quarter, meaning a quarter note gets one beat. Therefore, we can say that while in three four time, there are three quarter notes in one bar.
The final common time signature we are going to look at today as two-four time. Two four time is often referred to as cut time, as it is exactly half of common time, or four-four time. Cut time is often used in marches, as it is easy to keep time while walking (left foot is the first beat, right foot is the second). A two-four time signature looks like this:
Now, let's look at this time signature. The top number is two; therefore there are two beats in one bar. Secondly, if you change the top number to a one, you get one quarter, so a quarter note gets one beat. So, we can determine that in cut time, there are two quarter notes in one bar.
More Time Signatures:
Now, there are just a few more things I want to add to this lesson.
First of all, you may have noticed that all the notes have a value in relation to the time signature. For example, in common time, there would be two half notes in one bar, while in cut time, there would only be one. But, this is not the case for whole notes and whole rests. No matter what the time signature is, a whole note or whole rest is held for the entire bar, no exceptions.
Secondly, I would just like to point out that in all the common time signatures, the bottom number is four. But, the bottom number could also be a two, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, or even sixty-four; not every time signature has a quarter note equal to one beat. For example, if the bottom note in a time signature was an eight, an eighth note would be equal to one beat, note a quarter note.
Now, finally, I think practice is the best way to learn something. So, here are some time signatures for you to put you knowledge to. Just identify how many beats are in each bar, and what note gets one beat. You can even try writing a melody in each time signature!
Well, that's all for today's lesson on time signatures. Hopefully you learned something new! Time signatures are extremely crucial to being able to play and write music, so they are something extremely important to learn. Anyway, that's it, so goodbye!