Chapter One

Page 4

Beats and Meter

Meter is the organization of beats into patterns of strong and weak beats. Organizing beats in strong and weak patterns is very natural. Whether it is a old wrist watch's tick tock, a train's clink-ity clink as it rolls down the tracks, or a musician tapping his foot to "get the beat", organizing beats into regular pulsations of a sound is as natural as breathing.

A time signature indicates the meter of a piece of music. The time signature consists of two numbers. One number is written above the other. The time signature appears just after the clef sign and key signature. The top number indicates the number of notes per measure. The bottom number indicates what kind of notes (half notes, quarter notes, etc.) The following gif shows a piece of music with a time signature of "three quarter time". Thus, there are three quarter notes per measure. Coincidentally, three quarter time is often referred to as waltz time.


The number of beats per measure will have a profound impact on how the music sounds. Too many beats per measure may make the music sound slow and laboured. Too few beats may make the music sound choppy and lacking in precision.

The top number of a key signature usually indicates the number of beats per measure. However, this is not always the case. For example, if the top number is evenly divisible by three, then the meter is called compound duple. An example is six eight time. Note that the measures in the below piece should be divided into two beats.


Understanding time signatures and recognizing the number of beats per measure is largely a result of experience. The above measures were dividied into two beats. However, six eight time can also have six beats per measure. Students should listen to the midi files on Sheet Music USA and try to hear the beats per measure. Practice will produce its rewards.

End of Chapter One

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