Author Topic: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures  (Read 128 times)

Peter Anderson

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No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« on: September 26, 2019, 07:49:28 AM »
Let us commence with a little historical information.

Time signatures arose from the mensuration, which was a system devised in the 13th century to govern rhythmic relationships in music

Time signatures as we know them today, first appeared in music around the 16th century, but the system of flats and sharps that determine keys, that we regularly use, wasnít fully standardised until half way through the 17th century.   

Before recognisable time signatures were put into place, musicians would often go to the great trouble of scoring multiple time signatures or even clashing time signatures, for a group of musicians, who were performing the same piece of music.

The idea of different musicians all playing within one set key, took hundreds of years to agree on a system, and meant composers struggled to get musicians, who played in different ranges, keys, or modes, working together.

Key signatures were designed to help musicians, save time, and, above all, produce order and predictability.

Up until the 16th century, the music score was referred to as the mensuration system, which recorded the music score very differently.

Today, all our notes are binary, by which I mean, they can all be divided into two smaller equal notes.  In mensuration, signs were placed at the beginning of each part, to instruct the player about which notes were binary and which were ternary.

They were not necessarily the same in each part, and were often subject to change, when a new instruction appeared on the page.
Furthermore, in mensuration, there were no bar lines, and no tied notes.   There was no need for ties, because no notes needed to be carried over a non-existent bar line.     Today we frequently add a smaller note value to a note with a tie.

At that time, many notes were ternary, which was regarded as perfect, so they became the foundation of music.    Perfection, of course, was related to the trinity, and most compositions of that period were religious.

Note values were changed in the scores.     A ternary note, could be made shorter, and therefore became imperfect, by a smaller neighbouring note.    In other words, its value was subtracted from the ternary note.  How tricky was that!

In the next Reply, we will begin to review time signatures as we know them today.

Peter
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Re: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2019, 09:13:46 AM »
Introduction to Time Signatures

These are just some of the time signatures you might encounter.




Notice also in the above image that there are time signatures in the form of letters, instead of numbers, which may make them even more confusing.

But, these letters really just stand in for numbers with added special meanings.

All of these time signatures raise questions, like
                   Do we really need all of them?
                   Do they mean different things?   
                   Why do composers and musicians prefer some time signatures to others?

These time signatures actually do have slightly different meanings and purposes in music, but some can sound exactly the same to the human ear.

Some are quite rarely used, whereas others are used very frequently.

Hopefully, this Pearl will explain the basics of reading time signatures, which are also known as meters, and explain their usage.

Peter
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« Reply #2 on: September 30, 2019, 07:58:10 AM »

Since you are reading this Pearl, you might appreciate this joke.

Please click this link to open it in a new window:

http://www.ar-group.org/smforum/index.php?topic=3498.0

Peter
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Re: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2019, 08:00:37 AM »
A guide to understanding Time Signatures

Time signatures in sheet music are used to specify how many beats are contained in each bar or measure of music, and which note value is equivalent to one beat.

So why are time signatures important?

A consistent meter, also called a time signature, (which is the way that we will refer to them from now on), provide the rhythm to music and are significant because thanks to them we are able to create steady and consistent beats, or pulses, through any piece of music.

It is on these beats that we clap our hands or tap our feet, when listening to music.

Time Signatures (Meter) and rhythm are two distinct ways, that musicians refer to, when defining how music moves through time.

The Meter, as we have seen, defines the structure of the bars, while Rhythm defines the actual lengths of the notes in the bars of the music score.

Rhythm is which notes are long and which notes are short, in relation to each other.

Musicians know how to play these rhythms in the context of each piece because of the time signature.

So time signatures are essential in establishing a solid basis for any piece of music.

In the next Reply we consider   How to read or write time signatures

Peter
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Re: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2019, 07:52:27 AM »

How to read or write time signatures

A Bar or measure is where the five horizontal lines of a staff are intersected vertically with another line, indicating a separation.   

From now on in this Pearl we will always refer to these measures as bars.

This simple graphic is useful for you to remember, when you come across any Time Signature, but it is especially helpful if it is not a familiar one to you:



Another reason for time signatures is that the first beat in the bar is the strongest, with others, depending on the time signature, having different strengths, which are necessarily always equal to each other. 
So we need to understand, how different time signatures will affect the rhythm, style, and feel of the music.

We will explain the difference in the strength of beats in the next Reply.

It is important to realize that time signatures do not indicate the speed at which a piece of music is to be played.   

The speed is determined by Tempo.     This is either at the composerís wish, or the discretion of the performer.

For most of us the very common Time Signatures, like 4/4



       and



      are about all that we can cope with, or indeed need to, as most of the scores we use are often one of these time signatures, just to get by.   

Therefore, when we see 3/4 like this, we ask ourselves:




and arrive at the conclusion:



Now Time Signatures may appear rather daunting to you, but they really are that simple, although I accept they do tell us a little more than this basic fact.

As we progress in this Pearl, weíll try to get to grips with what the Time Signature actually means, and how we play the scores that have different sets of numbers.

In the next Reply, we examine more closely those beats in a bar and define how their strength varies.

Peter
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Peter Anderson

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Re: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2019, 07:45:32 AM »

Just as we divide time into hours, minutes, seconds, so we divide music into beats.

You can think of the beat as the pulse of the music.   

The association of music with dance is significant, especially in Western music.     This is because we like repetitive rhythmic patterns, and dancers need their music to be absolutely regular.     

Interestingly dancers like strong and weak beats in their accompanying music.

On the other hand a march imitates the left-right pattern of the marchers' steps, so generally the meter comprises 2 beats with the first being strong and the second weaker.

By convention, the first beat in a bar is usually the strongest.

Here is a simple description of strong and weak beats associated with different numbers of beats in a bar:

      Bar                     Pattern of Beats or Meter
 1 beat bar                   Strong
 2 beat bar                   Strong Weak
 3 beat bar                   Strong Medium Weak
 4 beat bar                   Strong Weak Medium Weak
 6 beat bar                   Strong Medium Weak Strong Medium Weak

This will help you to understand the importance of Time Signatures, and why different ones create a different feel to the music.           

In the next Reply, we begin to appreciate what time signatures basically mean.

Peter
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Re: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2019, 08:59:47 AM »

Every time signature, which is in the form of two numbers that resemble a fraction, are shown on the staff, at the start of nearly every piece of music, to tell the player how many beats there are in every bar.

Here is probably the most common one you will see:



In a Time Signature, the top number determines how many beats there are in every bar.

Whereas, the bottom number determines what type of note gets those beats.

So in the above example of what we call    4 - 4    time,   

the top 4, tells us,               there are 4 beats in every bar        and

the bottom 4 tells us,          a quarter note (1/4)     gets those beats.


This time signature of      4/4       does not mean that each bar always has only four quarter notes.

Rather, it means that each bar has only four beats.

These beats may sometimes contain half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, rests, but in fact, whatever the composer wants. 
However, all the note and rest values in each bar. must combine to equal no more or no less than the top number (or numerator) of the given time signature.

This principle applies to every other time signature, in the same way, like this:



In the next Reply, we mention the letters that replace numbers in Time Signatures, and explore that bottom number more.

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Re: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« Reply #7 on: October 09, 2019, 06:55:56 AM »

But, sometimes, however, you may see two time signatures that are letters, that look like this:

       


 but these are actually shorthand and variations for the two most common time signatures, which we will cover further, later on.


So, here is another quite common example:




        The top number, in this case 3, means that there is a specific number of beats in every bar, which will be for this example 3.

Again we will explore these top numbers, in more detail later on.

Initially, I want to concentrate on the bottom number.

The bottom number can be 1, 2, 4, 8, 16.

You could continue to 32, 64, etc., but you will probably never encounter such a time signature!

In the next Reply, you will find a simple chart, which will help us to appreciate these note values, and relate them to time signatures.

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Re: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« Reply #8 on: October 11, 2019, 03:18:13 AM »

Take a look at this chart:

                       

It shows the musical note names that are used in either the UK or the USA.

Actually the American naming method is very helpful to us here.

Those bottom numbers, in a Time Signature, simply coordinate with the following types of notes:

    1            Whole Note (which you will rarely see in a time signature)
    2            Half Note
    4            Quarter Note
    8            Eighth Note
  16            Sixteenth Note


As stated earlier, you could continue to 32 or 64, but you will probably never encounter such a time signature!


So a half note can be thought of as 1/2, which, although is a fraction, closely resembles our time signature.

So I have shown the notes actual fraction equivalent, on the right hand side of the chart, as a helpful comparison.


Sometimes the time signature can change during the course of the score.

If this occurs, then every bar from that point on, including the one in which the new time signature appears, must conform to the revised pattern.

In the next Reply we will look at the bars in music, and how time signatures are classified, which is where the top number comes into play.

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Re: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« Reply #9 on: October 13, 2019, 07:49:06 AM »
Having set a time signature, how do we know what to put in each bar?

We donít have to use only crotchets if the bottom number in the time signature is a   4.

We can use longer or shorter notes too.

The only rule is that they have to equal the number of beats in the time signature.


Here is an illustration that may help you.

Think of each bar as being an empty garage, where you can park 4 cars.

What you store in your garage is entirely up to you.

In your garage,  you could park 4 cars.         But, instead. you could maybe store 2 limos.        Or perhaps, just 1 long truck.

You might even be able to manage to park 8 bikes, with just 2 cars, present.       If you wanted to, you could even choose to leave some spaces empty.

It is up to you, precisely how you fill the space, as long as you don't exceed the available spaces that you have available, because as you only have those 4 spots, each equivalent to one car each,  that you have available.       So you can't put 5 cars in there, because you have not got the necessary space.

This is how musical notes in bars works out, with longer notes taking up more space than shorter ones, but the overall space available in each bar is fixed, and this amount must be adherred to.

In the next Reply, you will find a simple diagram to help you immediately understand any time signature.

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Re: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« Reply #10 on: October 15, 2019, 05:48:10 AM »

When you see any time signature, ask yourself this question.

How Many    /    Of What?




So in this example,     3/4    we ask   Of What?    and read the bottom number of    4

which we know means

     4   Crochets            in each bar


and for       6/8    we would know that it means

6      quavers              in each bar.

and so on.

In the next Reply we consider incomplete bars.

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Re: No__119___Guide to understanding Time Signatures
« Reply #11 on: October 17, 2019, 07:29:58 AM »

Incomplete Bars

An initial bar of a music score may not contain the expected number of beats. 

This shortened bar, is used for when the first beat of a work is not a strong beat and so the first bar is incomplete.

An introduction that begins on a weak beat is called an anacrusis, a term derived from poetry.


Here are two pieces of a very well known tune, both versions of which are in ĺ time.
Sing or play over this first piece putting an emphasis on the first beat of every bar.



Now try doing the same thing with this piece:



Notice that first bar, which is an anacrusis.

Which version sounds better?

In the next Reply, we will explore the Anacrusis

Peter
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