Time Signatures & Grouping

Time Signatures & Grouping

The time signature specified a regular rhythm for a song or piece of music. In this section we will be discussing time signatures and how notes are grouped in each of the time signatures to allow for better reading. There are three subdivisions in our table of time signatures, viz., simple time, compound time and irregular time.  

What do the numbers in the time signature mean?

The time signature looks like a fraction with a numerator and denominator. Lets take a look at the example below, which is pronounced four, four time. The top number refers to the beats and the bottom number refers to the type of beat that will be prevalent in the piece of music. Notice that the key signature appears first and is followed by the time signature, in our illustration.

The type of beat - where do we get that?

The type of beat may be a minim, crochet, quaver, semiquaver, demisemiquaver. We learned about note types in an earlier discussion and will use them here. The American names of the note types are, the half note, quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth and thirty second note among others.

The numerator of the time signature refers to the beats in a bar or music, while the denominator refers to the type of beat.

whole note = 1
half note / minim = 1/2
quarter note / crochet = 1/4
eighth note / quaver = 1/8
sixteenth note / semiquaver = 1/16

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Simple Time Signatures

Simple time signatures are divided into three subcategories, duple time, triple time and quadruple time with two, three and four beats respectively.

Interpreting the numbers

The numerator tells the performer how many beats are allocated to the bar for a regular rhythm. The denominator decides whether a beat is an eighth note / quaver, quarter note / crochet, or half note / minim. 

When the type of note is a eighth note / quaver

The denominator may change from one piece of music to another depending on the rhythm used when composing the piece. In the example we have selected a key signature with the eighth note as the denominator.

Know the note pyramid well

This knowledge is essential when dealing with subdivision of notes within a given time.

Comparing note values

How note values are subdivided to create rhythmic variety and thereby shaping the melody. How is the whole note or semibreve subdivided into notes that have shorter duration. 

Take note of the following:
One wholenote = 2 half notes / minims
One wholenote = 4 quarter notes / crochets
One wholenote = 8 eighth notes / quavers
One whole note = 16 sixteenth notes / semiquavers

How the minim is subdivided

The half note or minim may be subdivided into crochets / quarter notes, quavers / eighth notes, sixteenth notes / semiquavers and thirty second notes or demisemiquavers.

Take note of the following:
One half note = 2 quarter notes / crochets
One half note = 4 eighth notes / quavers
One half note = 8 sixteenth notes / semiquavers
One half note = 16 thirty second notes / demisemiquavers.

The quarter and eighth notes are subdivided

The illustration below shows how the quarter note / crochet and quaver / eighth may be subdivided. Other subdivisions are possible.

One crochet = two quavers
One crochet = four semiquavers

One quaver = two sixteenth notes
One quaver = four thirty second notes

Grouping of notes 

The grouping of notes must be discussed within the context of the time signature for a better understanding of the techniques used.

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