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Video:Time Signature and Rhythm Basics

with Jonathon E. Stewart

Learning about time signature and beat counting is an important part of reading music, and a fun one, too. See how it's done!See Transcript

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Transcript:Time Signature and Rhythm Basics

Counting beats is an essential part of being able to read and play music. Understanding how time signatures work is the first step in interpreting musical rhythms in written notation. But, the best part, is that learning to count is fun.

What Is Time Signature?

A piece of music's time signature provides a legend for describing its meter, or how the musical notes should be read. It provides information about the number of beats in each measure of written music, as well as how the beats should be counted.

What Are Beats?

Beats are a little hard to describe in words––technically, they're the little blocks of time that divide up and organize the rhythm of music. Non-technically, they're the things that make you go mmm mmm mm mmm mmm.

The time signature immediately follows a piece of music's key signature on a staff, and stays the same for the whole piece unless the meter changes, which is signified by a new time signature. The notes that make up the piece of music are divided into measures, which are denoted by lines called, "bars," which run from the top to the bottom of the staff. You might also hear the word "bar" used in place of "measure," which is fine, unless you go looking for the last whiskey measure.

Time Signature Parts

Time signature is made up of two numbers: the top number denotes the number of beats in a measure, and the bottom shows which type of note gets counted as one beat, where 4 stands for a quarter note, 2 for a half note, 8 for an eighth note, and so on.

Let's walk through a few of the usual suspects here. This is where you get to clap or stomp your feet, so get ready to unleash those clappers and stompers.

Common Time

4-4, or common time, has four beats per measure, where the quarter note gets the beat, like this: 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4. 2-2, or cut time, has two beats per measure, where the half-note gets the beat. 1-2-1-2-1-2-1-2. Note that the first beat, or the downbeat, is usually the strongest.

So now you know why all those songs start off with a 1-2-3-4. It's not a countdown, it just keepin' time. I'm Jonathon Stewart with About.com.
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