In lesson 3 of these how to read sheet music tutorials we covered reading of rhythm – aka the time value of notes.
Everything in that lesson was explained using 4:4 time (which is the most common and easiest to understand).
In this lesson we will look at some different time signatures and how they work.
4:4 time recap
To recap on lesson 3.
Sheet music is separated into bars. Each bar has a certain number of beats in it.
In 4:4 time each bar has 4 quarter notes (crotchets). In 4:4 time each beat is the equivalent of 1 quarter note and there are 4 beats per bar (i.e. 4 quarter notes).
If you don’t understand the time value of notes check out the link below for lesson 3.
Other time signatures
However 4:4 is the not the only time signature.
There a variety of other time signatures that you will need to understand if you plan on being able to read music – and often even just to play along with others, understanding of time signatures is important.
And if you are writing music it’s also very beneficial to understand how time signatures work.
How time signatures work
The first 4 in 4:4 time refers to the number of beats in the bar. The second 4 in 4:4 time refers to the fact that the bars are measured in quarter (1/4) notes. Time signatures measured with quarter notes are sometimes known as quarter-note time.
3:4 time is also a quarter note time – the 4 after the “:” (the bottom number on the staff) represents that the time signature is measured in quarter notes. 1 quarter note in 3:4 time = 1 beat. In 3:4 time there are 3 beats in the bar. So there are 3 quarter (1/4) notes.
Non quarter-note time signatures
Not all time signatures are in “quarter note time”.
For example 6:8 time.
6:8 time is measured in “eight notes” (quavers). In 6:8 time there are 6 eighth (1/8) notes per bar. There are 6 beats per bar but those beats are eight notes instead of quarter notes.
3:2 time is measure is measured in half notes (minims). So each beat lasts the length of a half note. In 3:2 time there are 3 half (1/2) notes per bar or 3 beats per bar.
Other time signatures
The above are just examples of a few different time signatures, although some are more common than others like 4:4, 3:4 and 6:8.
O.k. that’s all very well but how do we know how long each note actually lasts for. I mean, how long does a quarter (crotchet) note actually last for?
That’s where tempos come in.
In part 5 of how to read music we will be taking a look at how tempo works and how it is notated.
Thanks for Reading
I hope this post has helped your understanding of time signatures. Any questions or comments welcome in the comments section below.
Check out the first 3 parts of how to read sheet music at the links below.