Time Signatures

Written music is usually organized into time groupings of equal value called measures. These groupings are identified at the beginning of a piece by the use of time signatures and are marked throughout a piece by the use of bar lines. The time signature occurs at the beginning of notated music just after the clef sign and the key signature. Four frequently used time signatures (two-four, three-four, four-four, common time, and cut time) are shown below. The common time signature is equal to the four-four time signature. The cut time time signature is equal to a two-two time signature; however, the notation looks like the four-four time signature.

Two Four Three Four Four Four Common Cut

The top number indicates how many note values of a certain type occur in a measure and the bottom number the type of note to which the top number is refering. The two-four time signature means that each measure receives a time duration of two quarter notes. (The 4 stands for 1/4 or a quarter note.) Three-four means that each measure receives a time duration of three quarter notes and four-four that each measure receives a time duration of four quarter notes. With the cut time signature a half note represents the time duration with a total of two half notes per measure. (This is equal to four quarter notes per measure.) Click on each time signature below to view how they would appear with bar lines and twelve repeated quarter notes. The first quarter note in each measure (the first quarter note after a bar line) is considered the strongest part of the measure. The numbers under the notes show how the notes can be conceptualized as the examples are played. Click on a time signature to change the example to the desired count. Count out loud while playing the example with each time signature. Notice the difference in feeling that occurs, particularly if number one is emphasized.

Frequently used time signatures which utilize the eighth note as the basic unit are shown below. Three eight means three eighth notes per measure. Six eight means six eighth notes per measure, nine eight means nine eighth notes per measure and twelve eight means 12 eighth notes per measure.

Three Eight Six Eight Nine Eight Twelve Eight

Notice that the top number in each of these time signatures is evenly divisible by three. The eighth notes with these time signatures are often given a time value of one-third rather than one. Click on the time signatures below to see how the eighth notes would be counted. Dotted quarter notes often receive the time value of one with these time signatures. (A dotted quarter note is equal to three eighth notes.) The eighth notes are often beamed in groups of three when these time signatures are used.