01 – 01 Measures Meter and Time

When you look over music and begin to first sight read it, you’ll want to take special note of what the meter is, and then examine the rhythms which look challenging. Key signatures, form, and many other ques will help streamline your initial reading, but this page focusses just on meter. Start with the meter and rhythms to begin to understand what the black ink means.

Measures: A segment of time.

A measure is a segment of time, broken down into a specific number of beats or pulses. These beats and pulses are described on the page, and conducted from the podium. While you already know what measures are, its Meter that begins to develop deeper musical meaning.

Meter:

Meter is the recurring pattern of stresses or accents that provide the pulse or beat of music. It is defined by the Time Signature.

Simple meter: meter where each beat can be subdivided by 2.

Ex: Simple duple (2/2 or 2/4), Simple Triple (3/8 or 3/4), Simple quadruple (4/4)

Compound meter: each beat can be subdivided by 3.

ex: Compound duple (6/16), compound triple (9/4), or compound quadruple (12/8)

Complex meter: doesn’t fit into the standard simple duple, simple triple or simple quadruple or is odd meter:

Ex: 5/8, 7/4 as in Money from Pink Floyd, or 5/4, such as in the jazz classic “Take 5”.


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Time Signature:

Time signature shows the meter and thus helps the musician understand the intended pulse of the music.

Ex: 4/4 time = the top number means 4 beats or pulses to a measure AND the bottom number tells us which note value gets the pulse.

Say the description out loud: “This is 4/4 Time where there are 4 beats to a measure and the quarter note(1/4) gets one beat.” Sing the numbered beats out loud. When you sing these out loud, emphasize the bold number.

Say this out loud: “4/4 time = 4 beats to the measure. 1/4 (quarter) note gets one beat.” “The beats are named repeatedly for each measure and sound as follows: “| 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 |”. ONE 2 THREE 4 where emphasis is on the capitalized ONE and THREE pulses.

The quarter note forms the beat and the emphasis is on “1”, but the measure may include pulses which further subdivide the beat, such as beat “3”.

 

Say a few more of these out load to get the idea:

Say this out loud: 2/4 time = 2 beats to the measure. 1/4 (quarter) note gets one beat. The beats are named repeatedly for each measure:  | 1 2 | 1 2 | ONE 2, ONE 2.

Say this out loud: 3/4 time = 3 beats to the measure. 1/4 (quarter) note gets one beat. The beats are named repeatedly for each measure:  | 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 | ONE 2 3 ONE 2 3

Say this out loud: 5/4 time = 5 beats to the measure. 1/4 (quarter) note gets one beat. The beats are named repeatedly for each measure:  | 1 2 3 4 5 | 1 2 3 4 5 | with 5 quarter notes. ONE 2 3 Four 5 ONE 2 3 Four 5, or ONE 2 THREE 4 5 ONE 2 THREE 4 5.

This complex meter has an emphasis on “1”, and maybe a slight emphasis on beat “3” or beat “4”, like a 123-12 pattern or a 12-123 pattern.

 

These have an emphasis on one pulse, with a possible slight emphasis on another.

Say this out loud: 3/8 time = 3 beats to the measure. 1/8th (eighth) note gets one beat. The beats are named repeatedly for each measure: | 1 2 3 | 1 2 3 |. ONE 2 3 ONE 2 3

Did you emphasize the “1” over the 2 and 3? You should.

Say this out loud: 2/2 time = 2 beats to the measure. 1/2 (half) note gets one beat. The beats are named repeatedly for each measure:  | 1 2 | 1 2 |. ONE 2 ONE 2

 

So far, pretty easy, right? Sorry to bore you. But we don’t all come from the same background.

 

Say this out loud: 6/8 time = 6 beats to the measure. 1/8 (eighth) note gets one beat. The beats are named repeatedly for each measure: | 1 2 3 4 5 6 | 1 2 3 4 5 6| ONE 2 3 4 5 6 would not be necessarily a correct way to emphasize the pulse. ONE 2 3 FOUR 5 6 might be better.

If conducted in 6, rather than in 2, the “1” and the “4” beat are bolded? This is to suggest that this is a pulse which is felt, if conducted in 6 : | 1 2 3 4 5 6 | 1 2 3 4 5 6|.

Alternately,  | 1 2 3 2 2 3 | 1 2 3 2 2 3|.ONE two three TWO two three instead of ONE two three FOUR five six might be a way to feel the emphasize when conducted in 2, rather than in 6.

In fact, the conductor can choose which way to conduct 6/8; as ” conducted in 6″ or ” conducted in 2″. The musician fills in mentally the emphasized and less emphasized pulses. In the case of the conductor “conducting in 2”, the musician must subdivide the beats being conducted into 3 parts.

Say this out loud: 12/8 time = 12 beats to the measure. 1/8 (eighth) note gets one beat. The beats are named repeatedly for each measure: | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 |1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 | with eighth notes displayed. In fact, the conductor can choose which way to conduct 12/8; as “in 12” or “in 4” where the 1, 4, 7 and 10 pulse are subdividing the measure into 4 sets of triplets or 3’s. 

Summary:

Measures create divisions of time, especially useful for ensembles. Measures are not depicted in all types of music. You may look up FREE TIME music or information about Gregorian Chant, prior to a standardized system of writing music.

Time Signatures and Meter indicate beats and pulses of emphasis. Keep these in mind when sight reading, or developing expression of the notes on the page.