Meters

You all know your time signatures and how they work (note lengths, beats, etc).

We can classify these meters in two ways:

  1. the number of beats per measure, and
  2. how the beat is divided into smaller durations.

For standard time signatures, we have three choices for beats per measure:

  1. Two, we call this duple meter. (1 2 | 1 2 | 1 2 | 1 2)

  1. Three, we call this triple meter. (1 2 3 | 1 2 3 | 1 2 3)

  1. Four, we call this quadruple meter. (1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4)

And we have two choices for how the beat is divided:

  1. in Two, we call this simple meter. (1 and 2 and | 1 and 2 and)

  1. in Three, we call this compound meter. (1 la li 2 la li | 1 la li 2 la li)

We can combine these two ideas together to get six basic kinds of meters.

  1. simple duple

  1. simple triple

  1. simple quadruple

  1. compound duple

  1. compound triple

  1. compound quadruple

If you look closely, you’ll notice a pattern:

  • simple meters have 2, 3, and 4 as top numbers, and
  • compound meters have 6, 9, and 12 as top numbers.
  • In simple meters, the bottom number determines the beat.
    • 4 = quarter is the beat
    • 8 = eighth is the beat
  • In compound meters, the bottom number determines the beat DIVISION.
    • 4 = quarter is the beat division; dotted half is the beat
    • 8 = eighth is the beat division; dotted quarter is the beat

This means that  has two beats and the eighth note is the beat division grouped in threes. What gets the beat? The dotted quarter note. You can see this when you play fast music in  and the conductor conducts in two.

Practice these terms so that when you see a time signature you know which of the six meters it is. You should also be able listen to most music and determine the kind of meter by ear.