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Time Signatures


A time signature is a sign written at the beginning of a song (after the clef and key signature) which indicates the time and meter to be played.

They are also written anywhere a new time or meter is to occur.

Figure 1: A basic time signature.

Time signatures contains two numbers; one above the other. The bottom being the denominator and the top the numerator.


Denominator

The denominator (bottom number) indicates which note represents one unit of measurement.

The following is a list of denominators with their corresponding notes:

Denominator Note
1
2
4
8
16


Numerator

The numerator (top number) simply indicates how many of the selected denominator per bar.

To master these two factors is to master the basics of time signatures:

Figure 2: Three different time signatures with their bars complete.

Time signatures are divided into three categories: simple time, compound time, and irregular time.


Simple Time

Simple time signatures are those where each beat has two equal subdivisions. They may be duple, triple, or quadruple:

Metre Time Signature
Simple Duple
Simple Triple
Simple Quadruple


Compound Time

Compound time signatures are those where each beat has three equal subdivisions. They may be duple, triple, or quadruple:

Metre Time Signature
Compound Duple
Compound Triple
Compound Quadruple


Irregular Time

Irregular (or complex) time signatures are those where each beat is not subdivided by two or three, but rather a mixture of the two. They have meters which do not indicate duple, triple, or quadruple, but rather quintuple (five beats per bar), septuple (seven beats per bar), etc:

Metre Time Signature
Irregular Quintuple
Irregular Septuple


Also see Note & Rest Values | Tempo.


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