- A is a pulse in music that regularly recurs.
- are meters in which the beat divides into two, and then further subdivides into four.
- have groupings of two beats, have groupings of three beats, and have groupings of four beats.
- There are different conducting patterns for Duple, Triple, and Quadruple meters.
- A is equivalent to one group of beats (Duple, Triple, or Quadruple). Measures are separated by .
- in simple meters express two things: how many beats are contained in each measure (the top number), and the (the bottom number), which refers to the note value that is the beat.
- A connects notes by beat. Beaming changes in different time signatures.
- Notes below the middle line on a staff are down-stemmed, while notes above the middle line on a staff are up-stemmed. direction works similarly.
In Rhythmic and Rest Values we discussed the different rhythmic values of and . Musicians organize rhythmic values into various , which are—broadly speaking—formed as the result of recurrent patterns of accents in musical performances.
Listen to the following performance by the contemporary musical group Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ). They are performing a cover of the song “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls (originally released in 1996), as heard in:
Beginning at 0:11, it is easy to tap or clap along to this recording. What you are tapping along to is called a —a pulse in music that regularly recurs.
are meters in which the beat divides into two, and then further subdivides into four.is in a simple meter. You can feel this yourself, by tapping your beat twice as fast; you might also think of this as dividing your beat into two smaller beats.
Different numbers of beats group into different meters. contain beats which are grouped into twos, while contain beats which are grouped into threes, and contain beats which are grouped into fours.
Let’s listen to examples of Simple Duple, Simple Triple, and Simple Quadruple meters. A meter contains two beats, each of which divides into two (and further subdivides into four). “The Stars and Stripes Forever” (1896), written by John Philip Sousa, is in a Simple Duple meter.
Listen to, and tap along, feeling how the beats group into sets of two:
A meter contains three beats, each of which divides into two (and further subdivides into four). The third movement of Symphony no. 90 (1788), written by Franz Joseph Haydn, is in a Simple Triple meter. Listen to, and tap along, feeling how the beats group into sets of three:
Finally, a meter contains four beats, each of which divides into two (and further subdivides into four). The song “Cake” (2017), by Flo Rida, is in a Simple Quadruple meter. Listen tostarting at 0:45, and tap along, feeling how the beats group into sets of four:
As you can hear and feel (by tapping along) musical compositions in a wide variety of styles are governed by meter. You might practice identifying the meters of some of your favorite songs or musical compositions as Simple Duple, Simple Triple, or Simple Quadruple; listening carefully and tapping along is the best way to do this. Note that Simple Quadruple meters feel similar to Simple Duple meters, since four (beats) are divisible by two (beats). It may not always be immediately apparent if a work is in a Simple Duple or Simple Quadruple meter by listening alone.
If you have ever sang in a choir or played an instrument in a band or orchestra, then you have likely had experience with a . Conductors have many jobs. One of these jobs is to provide for the musicians in their choir, band, or orchestra. Conducting patterns serve two main purposes: first, they establish a tempo, and second, they establish a meter.
The three most common conducting patterns outline Duple, Triple, and Quadruple meters. Duple meters are conducted with a downwards/outwards motion (step 1), followed by an upwards motion (step 2), as seen in. Triple meters are conducted with a downwards motion (step 1), an outwards motion (step 2), and an upwards motion (step 3), as seen in . Quadruple meters are conducted with a downwards motion (step 1), an inwards motion (step 2), an outwards motion (step 3), and an upwards motion (step 4), as seen in :
Beat 1 of each of these measures is considered a . A downbeat is conducted with a downwards motion, and you may hear and feel that it has more “weight” or “heaviness” then the other beats. An is the last beat of any measure. Upbeats are conducted with an upwards motion, and you may feel and hear that they are anticipatory in nature.
shows a short video demonstrating these three conducting patterns:
You can practice these conducting patterns while listening to(Duple), (Triple), and (Quadruple) above.
In Western musical notation, beat groupings (duple, triple, and quadruple) are created by , which separate music into , which are also called bars.shows bar lines and measures:
Each measure is equivalent to one beat grouping. In simple meters, express two things: how many beats are contained in each measure, and the —which note value is the beat. Time signatures (also called meter signatures) are expressed by two numbers, one above the other, as seen in:
Time signatures may look like a fraction but they are not one; noticeably, there is no line in between the two numbers of a time signature. Time signatures come after a clef.
The top number of a time signature in simple meter represents the number of beats in each measure. The bottom number of a time signature represents the beat unit. The number “4” means that a quarter note gets the beat.
In simple meters, the top number is always “2,” “3,” or “4,” corresponding to duple, triple, or quadruple beat patterns. The bottom number is usually one of the following:
- “2,” which means the half note gets the beat.
- “4,” which means the quarter note gets the beat.
- “8,” which means the eighth note gets the beat.
Two other bottom numbers do appear in simple meter time signatures. If “16” appears as the bottom number then the sixteenth note gets the beat, while if “1” appears as the bottom number then the whole note gets the beat.
There are two additional simple meter time signatures which are (common time) and (cut time). Common time is the equivalent of (simple quadruple—four beats per measure), while cut time is the equivalent of (simple duple—two beats per measure).
Counting rhythms is important for musical performance; as a singer or instrumentalist you must be able to perform rhythms that are written in Western musical notation. Conducting while counting rhythms will help you to keep a steady tempo and is highly recommended.shows a rhythm in a time signature, which is a simple quadruple meter:
This time signature means that there are four beats per measure (the top “4”), and that the quarter note gets the beat (the bottom “4”). Each quarter note gets a count—1, 2, 3, 4—in each measure. Counts are expressed with . Notes that are longer in duration than the beat (such as a half or whole note in this example) are held over multiple beats. Beats that are not counted out loud are written in parentheses.
Please note that your instructor, high school, college, or university may employ a different counting system. Open Music Theory privileges American traditional counting, but this is not the only method.
shows how divisions (eighth notes) and subdivisions (sixteenth and thirty-second notes) are counted:
The divisions are counted as the syllable “and,” which is usually notated with a “+.” Further subdivisions at the sixteenth-note level are counted as “e” (pronounced as a long vowel such as the word see) and “a” (pronounced “uh”). Further subdivisions at the thirty-second-note level add the syllable “ta” in between each of the previous syllables.
Simple duple meters have only two beats, as shown in:
While simple triple meters have three beats, as shown in:
Beats that are not articulated because of rests, ties, and dots, are also not counted out loud. These beats are usually written in parentheses, as shown in:
A pickup note, also known as an , is a note that happens before the first measure of a musical work. There can be more than one pickup note in a piece. An anacrusis is counted as the last note (or last notes) of an imaginary measure.shows that this note would be counted as beat 4 (not beat 1):
Please note that the last measure in a work with an anacrusis is usually shortened by the length of the anacrusis.demonstrates this; there is an anacrusis that is one quarter note in length. Therefore, the last measure of the example is only three beats in length (i.e. it is missing one quarter note).
Simple meters with other beat units (the bottom number of a time signature) are counted differently because a different note value gets the beat.shows a rhythm with a time signature:
shows the same rhythm with the half note as the beat unit:
shows the same rhythm with the eighth note as the beat unit:
shows the same rhythm with the sixteenth note as the beat unit:
Each of these rhythms sound the same, and are counted the same. They are also all considered simple quadruple meters. The difference in each example is the bottom number—which note gets the beat unit (quarter, half, eighth, or sixteenth).
In simple meters, connect notes together by beat; beaming therefore changes in different time signatures. This is demonstrated in:
In the first measure of, sixteenth notes are grouped into sets of four, because four sixteenth notes in a time signature are equivalent to one beat. In the second measure of , sixteenth notes are grouped into sets of two, because two sixteenth notes in a time signature are equivalent to one beat.
Please note that beaming is sometimes not used in vocal music, although it is almost always used to connect notes sung on the same syllable. If you have not sung a lot of beamed music, you may need to pay special attention to beaming conventions, until you have mastered them.
In, the eighth notes are not grouped with beams, making it difficult to interpret the triple meter:
If we re-notate the above example so that the notes that fall within the same beat are grouped together with a beam, it makes the music much easier to read, as seen in:
Note thatand sound the same, even though they are beamed differently. This beaming helps because the ability to group events hierarchically is an important part of the human perceptual experience, and the visual parsing of notated musical rhythms is no exception. We have a hierarchy in the form of a metrical structure, and we use our notational tools to show it!
shows several different ways to beam beats in this same time signature:
Each line starts with unbeamed notes on the left, and the same rhythm beamed properly (where applicable) on the right. The first line does not require beams because quarter notes are never beamed, but all subsequent lines do need beams to clarify beats.
The of notes can point either upwards (on the right side of a note) or downwards (on the left side of a note). For notes above the middle line, the stem points downwards, and for notes below the middle line stems point upwards. Notes on the middle line can point in either direction. This is shown in the first measure of:
As you can see in the second measure of, when notes are grouped together with beams the stem direction is determined by the note furthest from the middle line. On beat one of measure 2 this note is E5; E5 is above the middle line, which means down-stems are used. On beat two of measure 2 this note is E4; E4 is below the middle line, which means up-stems are used.
Flagging is determined by stem direction. Notes above the middle line receive a down-stem (on the left) and an inwards-facing flag (facing right). Notes below the middle line receive an up-stem (on the right) and an outwards-facing flag (facing left). Notes on the middle line can be flagged in either direction, usually depending on the contour of the musical line. This is demonstrated in:
Partial beams can be used for mixed rhythmic groupings, as shown in:
Sometimes these beaming conventions look strange to students who have had less experience with reading beamed music. If this is the case, you will want to pay special attention to how the notes inare beamed.
Rests that are multiple measures are sometimes notated as seen in:
This notation indicates that the musician is to rest for a duration of four full measures.
We have already encountered ties which can be used to extend a note over a measure line. But ties can also be used like beams to clarify the metrical structure within a measure. Here’s a case where it can be helpful (note the combination of tie and beams), in:
As you can see in, ties are used to break up the note that traverses from the end of the first beat to the start of the second, leading to a clearer rhythm overall.
- Simple Meter Tutorial (musictheory.net)
- Video Tutorial on Simple Meter, Beats, and Beaming (YouTube)
- Conducting Patterns (John Buccheri)
- Simple Meter Time Signatures (liveabout.com)
- Video Tutorial on Counting Simple Meters (One Minute Music Lessons)
- Simple Meter Counting (YouTube)
- Beaming Rules (Music Notes Now)
- Beaming Examples (Dr. Sebastian Anthony Birch)
- Time Signatures and Rhythms (.pdf)
- Terminology, Bar Lines, Fill-in-rhythms, Re-beaming (.pdf)
- Meters, Time Signatures, Re-beaming (website)
- Bar Lines, Time Signatures, Counting (.pdf)
- Time Signatures, Re-beaming, p. 4 (.pdf)
- Fill-in-rhythms (.pdf)
- Time Signatures (.pdf, .pdf)
- Bar Lines (.pdf, .pdf, .pdf)
- Measures and Bar Lines © Nathaniel Mitchell is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- Time Signature © Chelsey Hamm is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- Common Time © Chelsey Hamm is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- 4/4 Time Signature © Chelsey Hamm is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- 2/2 Time Signature © Chelsey Hamm is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- 4/8 Time Signature © Chelsey Hamm is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- Notes Without Beams © Mark Gotham is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- Beaming Breakdown © Mark Gotham is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- Stemming © Chelsey Hamm is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- Flag Direction © Chelsey Hamm is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- Partial Beams © Megan Lavengood is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- Multi-Measure Rest © Chelsey Hamm is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
- Ties Clarify Beats © Mark Gotham is licensed under a CC BY-SA (Attribution ShareAlike) license
A pulse in music to which one can tap or clap along
Meters in which the beat divides into two (subdivides into four)
Meters in which beats are grouped into twos
Meters in which beats are grouped into threes
Meters in which beats are grouped into fours
Created by bar lines, a measure (or bar) is equivalent to one beat grouping
Vertical lines that create measures
In simple meters: specifies how many beats are contained in each measure, and which note value is equivalent to a beat. In compound meters: specifies how many divisions are contained in each measure, and which note value is equivalent to a division.
Which note value gets the beat
The horizontal lines that connect certain groups of notes together
A curved line placed at the end of a stem
Includes both a pitch and rhythmic component; may include a stem, beam, and/or flag
The duration of silences in music
A recurring pattern of accents that occur over time; meters are notated with a time signature
A meter with two beats, each of which divides into two
A meter with three beats, each of which divides into two
A meter with four beats, each of which divides into two
The director of a choir, band, or orchestra
Establish a meter and tempo for musicians
Beat 1 of a measure which is conducted in a downwards motion
The last beat of a measure which is conducted with an upwards motion
The numbers 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9
The notes before the first measure of a musical work
The vertical line that originates at the notehead