Time Signatures

The concept of meter, produced by time signatures and measures, is the essence of notated music. A Time Signature consists of two numbers, one over the other. It is written after the Key Signature but unlike the key signature, the time signature does not get repeated on each line of music. The top number tells the number of beats per measure, the bottom number the type of note to equal one beat.

Together the numbers denote the meter. The meters described above are four-four, six-eight, and three-four (often called three-quarter time).

The speed of the beat is indicated by a tempo mark above the first measure of the score. This may be in the form of words, or a metronome setting, or both.

A hint about words. Moderate is about the speed of your heart beat. Slow and fast are relative to that.

A metronome mark (MM) indicates the number of beats per minute. It is best to use words to describe the feel of the beat (flowing, marked, free) and a MM to communicate the speed.

The top example at right suggests 144 quarter notes per minute, as does the second. The dotted quarter note is often the conducted beat in 6/8. The bottom two are the same speed!

Sometimes a symbol similar to C is used as a time signature. It is often referred to as Common Time and means the same as 4/4.

The same symbol with a line through it is referred to as Cut Time and is the same as 2/2.

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