The two numbers stacked on top of each other at the beginning of your music is called the time signature. You can always find it right after the clef sign. There are several different time signatures in music that mean different things.
Here, we will explore a handful of the most common types of time signatures and how to understand them.
Music Time Signatures Explained
Every time signature has two numbers. There is a number on top and a number on the bottom.
- The top number tells us how many beats (or counts) are in each measure.
- The bottom number indicates what type of note will receive 1 beat.
We are going to use the two rules above to understand the 4/4 time signature.
- The upper number tells us there are 4 counts in each measure.
Now, if we replace the top number of the time signature with “1”, we have a fraction of 1 over 4 or 1/4.
Draw a circle on your paper. This represents a whole note. We are now going to draw a line through the circle creating 2 halves or 2 pieces. Do that one more time so that we have a total of 4 pieces inside of the circle (or whole note).
Next, draw a quarter note in each piece. Take a pencil and shade in one piece. We only want “1” piece of the whole note.
This represents the top number of our 1/4 fraction. We now know that the bottom number “4” represents a quarter note. This means…
- The lower number indicates that a quarter note will receive 1 beat.
With this information in mind, the rest of the time signatures will be pretty simple to figure out.
- The top number tells us there are 2 beats in each measure
- The bottom number means the quarter note will again receive 1 beat.
Why is this? The bottom number is still “4”. We have already discovered how the number “4” on the bottom represents a quarter note. This will remain true every time you see this same bottom number. Pretty cool!
3/4 Time Signature
If you thought that was easy, you will really like this next one. In fact, you may already know the answer right now.
- There are 3 beats in a measure
- A quarter note receives 1 beat.
Did you get the same answer? I’m sure you probably did by now.
That’s all there is to it! These 3 times signatures are the most common time signatures you will find in your music. Every beginner learning how to read and play music starts here first.
Take your time and practice reading and playing these 3 basic time signatures in music first. Keep adding to your musical knowledge gradually and allow yourself time to “digest” everything you are learning.
In no time at all, you will be a “pro” at reading music!