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Time Signature In Musical Notation

Introduction To Time Signatures.

In real life, we use our clock to check the time and know what the time is. Because time is an important aspect of music, there are certain symbols used to check time in music. These signs are always at the beginning of the staff, after the clef sign and the key signature. This symbol is called a time signature which can be a figure or ordinary sign. Therefore, to indicate the time of a piece of music, we used a time signature.

The time signature is an essential part of musical notation that contributes well to how we read and write music. Time signature gives us direction on beat counting as well as how to group notes for proper notation. Furthermore, it informs us about the beat that is worth our time in terms of emphasis. And in general, a time signature specifies the feeling of a musical piece.

Meter signature is another name used for time signature. In this article, we will establish the importance of time as related to music and also discuss time signature. In addition, our discussion will extend to a measure and meter as related to music. And finally, we will discuss time signature and how to read time signatures in sheet music.

Time In Music

Time is a very important part of our everyday life. We use the time to schedule and plan for different occasions at the workplace and home. Absolutely, we have different times for different activities.  Also in music, time matters a great deal. So before we talk about time signature, let us consider time in a musical sense. Though many studies on music theory often left it out. But without a doubt, time is an indispensable part of music. In fact, music is strictly based on time and every music has its own time.

Time gives us all the different notes we have in music as explained in Musical Notes In Sheet Music. In its essence, time dictates how long a note lasts before another note starts. Typically, we established in music theory that any note that sounds for a certain period of time has a particular value. This value is stated numerically with the number of beats. A certain shape as we know has 4 beats count and others shapes with their different beats count.

ALSO READ: Types Of Time Signature in Music Notation

Specifically, time in music theory is all about the pulse or the beat of the music. The pulse or beat of the music is categorically the most basic unit of time. The beat as a unit of time has a direct relation with the time signature in the music. Furthermore, when time is used correctly in music, it establishes the feel and flow of a piece. This feeling makes us tap our feet, sometimes nod our head or engage in the clapping of our hands. This aspect of time is the fundamental of rhythm in music.

Moreover, the effect of time is not only on the melody but also on the harmony. Time gives harmony a rhythm known as a harmonic rhythm that dictates how long each chord lasts.

Measure In Music Notation

Generally, in order to properly establish the effect of beat as a unit of time in music notation, these beats are grouped into measures sometimes called bars. The measure is also known as a bar in music and the two words can be used interchangeably. The measure is used to break music into digestible sections that can easily grasp and perform as desired.

In addition, there is a specific number of beats that are related to time and a particular value of beat in every measure. The measure is bounded by a bar line to properly notate music in sheet music. These bar lines are the vertical lines that are used to separate the notes in each measure.

Meter in Music Theory

The regular beat or pulse grouping into measures or bars are measured by the meter in music. Meter in music is about the way different beat or pulse tiers function together to organize music in time. It is used to define how a section of music can be divided in terms of the recurring patterns of beat.

Specifically, a meter in music defines the number of beats per measure and how the beats are typically divided. It tells us how notes of music are grouped together in repeated models to create the feel of the music. And also stated the number of evenly spaced pulses present in every repeated pattern.

Also, it determines how strong or weak is every beat in a measure in relation to each other. Specifically, it established accented beats and non-accented beats as well as their subdivision. Accent notes are played a little stronger than non-accented notes. Also, the accented note is always after the bar line. Specifically, they are the first beat of every bar or measure.

Time Signatures

Time Signature In Musical Notation

Basically, the effect of time in music is defined by the time signature. Although the tempo of the music has a significant effect on the mood of the music. The beat or simply the pulse at which the music is playing has a greater impact in creating the mood of the music. Specifically, these beats are grouped together in relation to time with the aid of a time signature to effectively create the music mood.

In this article, we will learn more about time as related to music with the use of time signature. This is necessary because time signature is the first time-related feature of music that needs to be understood properly. Time signature guides you on how to count the beat of the music.

What Is Time Signature?

The time signature is an essential part of music that indicates how many beats of note exist in each measure or bar. Also, the time signature is an element of musical notation used to specify how many beats constitute a bar or measure of a piece. Also, it is used to indicate the value of a note that signifies a beat in the measure.

Furthermore, the time signature promotes music to be divided into meters and makes the reading of the musical notation convenient. While the meter is the precise rhythm arrangement utilized in the passage of music. Time signature specifies the meter of the music with symbolic notation.

Every sheet of music must have an established time signature to properly depict the meter of the music. Also, to clearly notate the phrasing and melody of a piece. This also helps to establish the rhythm of the music and make it simpler to grasp.

Symbols Of The Time Signature

Time Signature In Musical Notation

In musical notation, the symbols for time signatures are of two types, namely ordinary symbols and numeral figures. Either of these symbols is placed at the beginning of a piece immediately after the key signature. However, a set of two numeral figures is the most common symbol used to represent the time signature.

These numeral figures or numbers used for time signature are placed one above the other. This makes the time signature look like a fraction number as shown in the picture above. In using figures, as shown above, the top figure indicates the number of beats in each bar of the music. And the bottom figure shows the value of the beat or note.

How To Read The Time Signatures

Time Signature In Musical Notation

Time signature establishes the number of notes that every measure in a piece can have. In order to achieve this, the time signature used two numbers in the form of fractions as shown in the picture we have above.  One number is at the top of the other but there is no stroke as we have it in a fraction between them. Thus, we have the bottom number and top number placed together to constitute the time signature.

Bottom (or Lower) Number of the Key Signature

The lower figure or number is known as the time signature denominator. The bottom number is used to indicate the types of beat or note used in writing the music. Specifically, the lower number of the time signature denotes the value of a note that is equivalent to a beat.

This makes the lower numeral serve as the beat unit of the time signature. The beat unit specifies the kind of note value that gets the beat. This informs you to count the beat as either quarter notes, eighth notes, or sixteenth notes depending on the rhythm of the piece.

In detail, the bottom number can correspond to any note value. This could be 1 for the whole note, 2 for the half note, 4 for the eighth note, and 16 for the sixteenth note. The beat value of each note has been discussed in Musical Notes In Sheet Music. Typically, the 4, 8, and 16 are the common beat unit you will always come across in sheet music.

Top (or Upper) Number of the Time Signature

The upper figure or number is known as the time signature numerator. The top number of the time signature shows the number of beats in each bar. In addition, the top number is used to indicate how many beats of the note value specified by the bottom number are in each bar. In particular, this top figure specifies the number of beats to count.

For instance, if we have 2 as the top number, it means we have 2 beats in a bar. And if we have 4 as our top number of the time signature, that indicates we have 4 beats in a bar. Generally, the number between 2 and 12 is common for the top part of the time signature.

Reading Time Signature

Time Signature In Musical Notation

To have a proper understanding of time signature, let us see some examples and how to translate them into music notation. As learned in the previous section, the number at the top indicates the number of beats in each bar of the music. Also, the bottom or lower figure shows the value of the beat or note. In other words, the upper figure refers to the number of beats, and the bottom figure denotes the unit value of the beats in relation to the whole note (semibreve).

For instance, if you see a 44-time signature at the beginning of a piece, how will you interpret it? The simple logic is that from the bottom part, you have a quarter (1/4) note beat in each measure. And the upper part of the time signature is telling you that you have 4 of quarter (1/4) note beats in each bar.  In summary, this means that you have four quarter notes beat in each bar. That is four crotchet beats per measure.

ALSO READ: What You Need To Know About The Music Staff

On the other hand, if you have a 34 time signature, the figure at the bottom tells you that you have quarter (1/4) note beats in each measure. While the 3 figures at the top specify 3 quarter (1/4) note beats in every bar.

This simply means three-quarter notes in every measure. That is three crotchet beats per bar. Again, 38-time signature simply means 3 eighths (1/8) notes per measure. That is 3 quaver beats in each bar. And for 68 times, it means you have 6 eighths (1/8) notes beats per measure. This is the same thing as 6 quaver beats in a bar.

Again, if you have a 22-time signature, it means you have 2 halves (1/2) note beats in a bar. Also, it means you have 2 minims beat in a bar. Besides, let us say you have 32 times in a piece. Without any doubt, it means 3 halves (1/2) note beats per bar. That is, you have 3 minims beats in a bar. Note that these values are in relation to semibreve which is a whole (or 1) note.

Take Note In Reading Time Signature

Note that each measure can have other notes’ value as a beat. Certainly, the beat may consist of half note, or eighth note as well as the rest value of the same beat. Regardless of the value of the different notes, you have in a measure, everything must sum up to four crotchets beat for 44-time. Also, if you have 32-time signature, every note in each measure must combine to equal 3 minims beats.

For instance, a quarter beat can be broken into two eighth notes (two quaver beats) as well as four sixteenth notes (four semiquaver beats). But always remember that the 4 and 3 as the top of the time signature means each measure has only four and three beats respectively. These are in relation to the note value of the bottom figure.


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