# Deciphering a Time Signature

The time signature of a piece of music determines how many beats per measure the piece has and which note shape each beat represents. You can figure it out by looking at the time signature of a song or by counting the beats of a song you are listening to. The measure is indicated on the musical staff just after the clef and key signature. It does not usually appear more than once, unless the beat changes.

## Steps

### Method 1 of 3: Decipher the time signature

#### Step 1. Read the top number

A time signature contains two numbers and is written as a fraction. The top number represents the number of beats in a measure of music. The most common top numbers are 2, 3, 4, and 6.

### For example, if the top number is "4", each measure consists of four beats. If the top number is "6", then the measure consists of six beats

#### Step 2. Read the bottom number

In a measure, the bottom number represents the type of note shape that the measure receives. Each note figure is assigned a specific number:

• "1": round (the round is worth a time)
• "2": white (white is worth a time)
• "4": black (the black one is worth a while)
• "8": eighth note (the eighth note is worth a beat)
• ”16”: sixteenth note (sixteenth note is worth a beat)

#### Step 3. Understand the compass as a whole

After you have seen the upper and lower numbers independently, you can see the two numbers as a whole. Here are some examples:

• 4/4: each measure has 4 beats and the quarter note is worth 1 beat
• 3/4: each measure has 3 beats and the quarter note is worth 1 beat
• 2/2: each measure has 2 beats and the white measure is worth 1 beat
• 6/8: each measure has 6 beats and the eighth note is worth 1 beat

#### Step 4. Identify the time signature symbols

Instead of numbers, the compass is sometimes indicated by a symbol. The letter "C" stands for a "common" or "complete" time signature and is used to replace 4/4. The letter "C" with a vertical line in the center means "split compass" and is used to replace 2/2.

### Method 2 of 3: Apply the Time Signature to Music

#### Step 1. Count in 4/4 time

When the measure is 4/4, each measure has 4 beats and the quarter note is worth 1 beat. This means that the round is worth 4 beats, the white is worth 2 beats, the eighth note is worth 1/2 time and the sixteenth note is worth 1/4 time.

• If the measure had 4 quarter notes, you would count the measure as "one, two, three, four."
• If the measure had 1 quarter note followed by 6 eighth notes, you would count the measure as "one, two and, three and, four and". "Y" represents a half time.

#### Step 2. Count in a 2/2 measure

When the measure is 2/2, each measure has 2 beats and the white measure is worth 1 beat. This means that the round is worth 2 beats, the quarter note is worth 1/2 time, the eighth note is worth 1/4 time, and the sixteenth note is worth 1/8 time.

• If the measure has 2 half notes, count it as "one, two".
• If you have 4 quarter notes, count the measure as "one and two and". "Y" represents a half time.
• If the measure has 4 sixteenth notes followed by 1 quarter note, count it as "one and a and two." "A y a y" represent a time divided by 4.

#### Step 3. Count in time of 6/8

When the measure is 6/8, each measure has 6 beats and the eighth note is worth 1 beat. This means that dotted white is worth 6 beats, white is worth 4 beats, black is worth 2 beats, and 16th note is worth 1/2 time.

• If the measure has 6 eighth notes, you can count the measure as "one, two, three, qua, cin, six."
• If the measure had 3 quarter notes, you would count the measure as "one two, three quacks, cin six".
• If the measure has 4 sixteenth notes followed by 1 quarter note, you would count the measure as "one and two and three qua cin six". "Y" represents a half time.

### Method 3 of 3: Hear the Metric in Music

#### Step 1. Identify the beat of a song

All songs have a constant beat or beat. While listening to the song, stomp or snap your fingers in time with the song.

• Let's use the song On My Uncle's Farm as an example. While listening or singing the song, you would mark the pulse on the syllables "En" + "la" + "great-" + "ja" + "de" + "mi" + "tí-" + "o".
• Remember that beats are grouped into bars. The time signature at the beginning of the piece determines how many beats appear in each measure and what kind of note shape lasts a beat. Sometimes a note falls on the pulse and other times a silence falls on it.

#### Step 2. Divide the beats into bars

The bars group the beats. Each measure contains the same number of beats. As you listen to the song, keep your ear ready for the beginning of a new measure. This is usually indicated with a strong emphasis on a note (a + two + three + four | a + two + three + four |). The emphasis or accent is usually something that is "felt."

#### Step 3. When you listen to or sing On My Uncle's Farm, the emphasis falls on the words "in" and "of."

• " On"+" the "+" great- "+" ha "|" from"+" my "+" you "+" or "|
• In a score, a vertical line separates one measure from another.
• If the measure indication changes in the middle of the song, the number of beats in each measure will also change.

#### Step 4. Count the beats per measure

Once you have divided the beats into uniform measures, count the number of beats between each set of measures. This number will be the top number of the time signature.

### In On My Uncle's Farm there are 4 beats per measure

#### Step 5. Do your best to determine the lowest number

Determining the lowest number requires guesswork. Base your guesses on the speed of the song's beats. If the pulses are slow, the lower number is probably "2". If times seem fast, the bottom number is probably "8". If the times seem to pass at a medium speed (60 beats per minute), the lower number is probably "4".

### In On My Uncle's Farm, times go by at a medium speed. The bottom number is "4". This song is in 4/4 or "full" measure, so named because it is the most common metric indication for a song

• Define the note shapes and their temporal values. In music there are five types of very common note shapes: round, white, black, eighth and sixteenth notes. Their values are all relative to each other.
• It is almost impossible to determine the bottom number of a time signature simply by listening to a song.
• For example, in the 4/4 time signature we have:

• the round one has 4 times
• the white one has 2 times
• the black one has 1 time
• the eighth note has ½ time
• the sixteenth note is ¼ of time
• On the other hand, in a 3/8 measure we have to:

• a round has 8 beats
• a white has 4 times
• a black woman has 2 times
• an eighth note has 1 beat
• a sixteenth note has ½ time