Time Signatures

A time signature explains how the beats (or meter) of a song or bar, etc. is organized.

In standard notation, the time signature is written on the staff after the clef and key signature.

They can also occur at the beginning of a bar when the time signature changes.

So the time signature tells us how to count the beats.

How do we read time signatures?

Consider the time signature for four-four time.


We see a fraction. The top number tells how many beats there are in a bar/measure. The bottom number tells what kind of note gets the beat.


4 = 4 beats to the measure
4 = Quarter-note gets the beat.


3 = 3 beats to the measure
4 = Quarter-note gets the beat.

3 = 3 beats to the measure
2 = Half-note gets the beat.

6 = 6 beats to the measure
8 = Eighth-note gets the beat.

Consider the following measures:

How are these different? How do we count them?

The first is counted as:

and the second is counted as:


We will save simpleand compound time signatures, as well as duple and triple meters at another time.

Next lesson is on Intervals.

Christopher Roberts

click here for worksheets/quiz on this material.

How do I change all those numbers to letters (for notes, chords, etc.)? Here's a transposition chart simianmoon.com/snglstringtheory/guitar/8theory3.html

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Last updated March 6, 2003
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