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Time Signatures
The 2 numbers at the start of a piece of music that tell you how many beats there are per bar.


General Q's Identifying Time Signatures Writing Time Signatures

A time signature is written at the start of a piece of music to show how many beats are in each bar.
They are two numbers:

The TOP NUMBER is the number of beats in each bar.(Eg in 4/4 it is 4 beats per bar)
The BOTTOM NUMBER is the types of the beats: (Eg in 4/4 the 4 represents crotchet beats)
So 4/4 has 4 crotchet beats per bar.

2 = minim beats       4 = crotchet beats      8 = quaver beats

2 crotchet
beats per bar
Soldiers marching
3 crotchet
beats per bar
Gorgeous Audrey Hepburn
4 crotchet
beats per bar
Most common
time sig.
5 crotchet
beats per bar
Jazz, nice.
2 minim
beats per bar
Fast orchestral
music with a "2 beat feel"
same as 4/4 Called
Common Time
same as 2/2 Called
Cut Common Time

In all the above examples the bars can be subdivided into crotchet beats. This is called SIMPLE TIME.
Simple Time is a time signature where each beat can be subdivided into 2 quavers. (Eg: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 2/2)

In music where there are 3 quavers per beat the time signature is COMPOUND TIME.
Compound Time is a time signature where each beat can be subdivided into 3 quavers. (Eg: 6/8, 9/8, 12/8).
Love To You by Etta James is in 12/8. Each beat is divided into 3 quavers. Click here to listen to Adele singing the song

6 quaver
beats per bar
A lilting feel CLICK TO HEAR
9 quaver
beats per bar
Not a common sig. CLICK TO HEAR
A bit of Bach
12 quaver
beats per bar
Often in the blues CLICK TO HEAR
when the band
comes in

What they represent:
2/4 - March (think of soldiers marching along – 1 2, 1 2, LEFT RIGHT, LEFT RIGHT,)
3/4 - A waltz (like the song Moon River) - 123, 123, 123, 123
4/4 - The most commonly used time signature - 1234, 1234, 1234
6/8 - A lilting 2-feel but with 3 small beats to each strong beat (easy to confuse with a fast waltz) 123 456, 123 456
12/8 - Bluesy (think of Etta James’ “I just wanna make love to you”) 123-456-789-10 11 12,


1. Look to see if the quavers are grouped in 2’s or 3’s. In 2’s means simple time (3/4, 2/4, 4/4 etc). In 3’s means compound time (6/8, 9/8 or 12/8).
2. Add up the number of crotchet beats per bar if it's simle time or quaver beats if it's compound time.

Note that 3/4 and 6/8 have the same number of quaver beats but they are grouped differently. 3/4 is SIMPLE time and 6/8 is COMPOUND time. See below - both lines are the same melody. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THEM. Which one is 3/4 and which 6/8? Hover your mouse over the image for the answer.

Now go back to the top and try some of the worksheets.
GOOD LUCK! Any problems please find a friend who understands and get them to help you out or book a lesson with a theory teacher. Don't suffer in silence. x

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