Music Theory – 0013

I think people are falling behind me here. While you are off doing exercises and figuring things out, I’ll just bide my time here and talk about Time Signatures. We are a little limited by what NotePad will do, but everything you are likely to want is already there.


Right in the dialog window for setting up a project you get a choice of Time Signatures. I will describe them overall and then one by one as appropriate.

The top number is “how many” and the bottom number is “what kind”. This defines the length of each measure and the feel of the implied accents in each measure. We’re not going to worry about the implied accents much.

Cut TimeOn the left we have two over two. The top number represents the amount of two and the bottom number represents the Half Note. Each measure gets the equivalent of two half notes. The symbol of “C” with a vertical line through it means the exact same thing. There are two beats to a measure and each Half Note gets a beat. This is called “Cut Time” in popular jargon. You will not see Cut Time very often.

Quarter TimeOver on the right are measures with Quarter Notes defining the beat. As you probably suspect, the first example here would have two Quarter Notes as the duration of a measure. The second one is a waltz feel with three Quarter Notes defining the length of each measure. The third figure is four over four or “four four” time. This is likely the most common Time Signature you will see with four Quarter Notes defining the length of each measure. The symbol of “C” with no line through it is called Common Time and is shorthand for “Four Four” time, same as the Time Signature before it. There are too many people who do not understand the symbols for Common Time and Cut Time so you should use their numeric equivalents instead, unless you intentionally want to act like a know-it-all elitist who wants to confuse the uneducated.

Triple MeterOver on the left are examples of Triple Meter. Nine over eight does indeed define a measure where there are the equivalent of nine Eighth Notes. But the beat in all four of these Time Signatures is different than what we have discussed so far. These are reserved for when there is a Triplet Feel to the music. When the top number is a multiple of three and the bottom number is of shorter duration than a quarter note, we have Triple Meter. Here, a Dotted Quarter Note gets one beat, or in other words a group of three Eighth Notes is considered one beat. Tomorrow I’ll give a brief Boogie Woogie example that will make it clear as to why we would need this. So, the first Time Signature of three over eight has one beat per measure comprised of a Dotted Quarter Note which is the same duration as a group of three Eighth Notes.

When you put a Dot immediately after a note it gets is own value plus half more. I know, more math. A Quarter Note is worth two Eighth Notes, and half a Quarter Note is one Eighth Note. Thus a Dotted Quarter Note is the same duration as three Eighth Notes.

Triple Meter Ex

And there you have it. Two beats per measure and the Dotted Quarter Note gets one beat. Notice how NotePad automatically groups the Eighth Notes. How about entering this simple example into NotePad and call it a night. We don’t have to do rocket science every day.

Next time: A Boogie Woogie sampling to demonstrate the feel of Triple Meter.

2 thoughts on “Music Theory – 0013

  1. Without having looked at the next lesson yet, it’s difficult to believe that something as arbitrary as where the bars go defines the feel of the music. After all it’s just an annotation, where they go doesn’t change the sound at all.

    • I will need to do a demonstration at least of the difference between 3/4 and 4/4 time signatures. The feel of your music is best encapsulated in a certain time signature.

      The waltz: ONE – two – three, ONE – two – three

      The march: One – two – Three – four

      There are implied stronger and weaker beats in time signatures. The music falls naturally into a time signature. It is not the time signature that causes the different feel but the musical construction, which in turn, best fits a particular time signature.

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