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Thread: time sigs

  1. #1
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    time sigs

    I have been playing guitar for around 20 years but have never got round to learning to read music. I have recently started to teach my self piano so now am having to learn to read and have a quick question on how long to play a note for in various time sigs.

    I am working through a book and it tells me that in time sigs the top note is the number of beats in a bar and the bottom is the note that gets 1 beat so in 4/4 there is four beats and the quater note gets 1 beat.

    my question is that in other sigs like 3/4 a quater note is 1 beat but does a half note get 2 beats (twice a quater note) or 1.5 (half the number of beats in a bar) also if a whole note gets 4 beats (four times a quater note) and not three (the number of beats in the bar) it will the go on to the first beat of the next bar is that correct.

    Badly phrased question sorry but i hope you get the idea.

    thanks
    Phil

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Phil View Post
    my question is that in other sigs like 3/4 a quater note is 1 beat but does a half note get 2 beats (twice a quater note) or 1.5 (half the number of beats in a bar) also if a whole note gets 4 beats (four times a quater note) and not three (the number of beats in the bar) it will the go on to the first beat of the next bar is that correct.
    A half note in 3/4 is still two quarter note beats.

    You won't ever see a whole note in a 3/4 piece - all the notes and rests in every 3/4 measure will add up to exactly 3 quarter note beats - to notate a note that lasts four beats you'll see something like a dotted half note (3 beats) tied to a quarter note (1 beat) in the next bar.
    Last edited by walternewton; 01-01-2013 at 01:49 AM.

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    For a practical example here's a song you're probably familiar with, which you might try counting out...I've capitalized where the half notes fall in the lyric, and the "me" at the end of the first line is a tied dotted half note+quarter note of the sort I talked about above.

    a MA zi-ing GRACE how SWEET the SOUND that SAVED a-a WRETCH li-ike *ME*

    etc.
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    Last edited by walternewton; 01-01-2013 at 01:50 AM.

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    That is great thankyou.
    So just to clarify a quater note is always one beat and half note always 2 beats etc requarless of the time sig?

    Phil

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Phil View Post
    That is great thankyou.
    So just to clarify a quater note is always one beat and half note always 2 beats etc requarless of the time sig?

    Phil
    A quarter note is always counted as one beat in the case of those time signatures with a 4 on the bottom - 3/4, 4/4, etc. - and in any case a half note is always two quarter notes, etc. (and going the other way 2 eighth notes make up a quarter note, 2 sixteenth notes make up an eighth note, etc.)

    In a time signature like 6/8, like in an Irish jig, I would count the eighth note as one beat - ONE two three FOUR five six - but still 2 eighth notes make up a quarter note, 2 quarter notes make up a half note, etc. (and going the other way 2 sixteenth notes make up an eighth note, etc.)

    Here is a 6/8 counting example from the web:
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  6. #6
    Registered User Color of Music's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton View Post
    A quarter note is always counted as one beat in the case of those time signatures with a 4 on the bottom - 3/4, 4/4, etc. - and in any case a half note is always two quarter notes, etc. (and going the other way 2 eighth notes make up a quarter note, 2 sixteenth notes make up an eighth note, etc.)

    In a time signature like 6/8, like in an Irish jig, I would count the eighth note as one beat - ONE two three FOUR five six - but still 2 eighth notes make up a quarter note, 2 quarter notes make up a half note, etc. (and going the other way 2 sixteenth notes make up an eighth note, etc.)

    Here is a 6/8 counting example from the web:
    Just to add, when you see an n/8 TS, the beats are then divided into pulses. IOW, pulses 1 + 4 are really beats 1 + 2; whereas 2,3 + 5,6 are your four smaller pulses.

    When listening to a drum rhythm (as in the above pic), the kick will sound on beat (pulse) one while the snare/rimshot will sound on beat 2 (pulse four) You'll get the similar effect when comping on a piano/keyboard or strumming on a guitar. However, on a drumset, the distinction is made due to the hat/ride playing on the pulses.

    K-H-H, Sn-R-R (Two beats; 3 pulses = 1 beat; Six pulses = 2 beats)

    Btw, to figure out beats and pulses, you multiply and divide by 3 as 6/8 is compound time. 2/8 would be simple time; however, both TS sound very different. Hence, the common confusion that 6/8 = 3/4 because one thinks of TS as a fraction; however, in the case of music, "reducing" is clearly quite different than in math although math and music are very closely related.

    To get beats (simple time) divide pulses (the top number in the TS) by three. To get pulses (compound time), multiply by 3.

    This is what has occurred when you see:

    6/4, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8; in simple time these are: 2/4, 2/8, 3/8 and 4/8

    Usually. half and quarter notes get the beat (with 3/8 being one exception) while eighths and sixteenths get the pulse.

    Of course, you do get odd time signatures: the most famous being that of 5/4 - Brubeck's (?) Take Five and more obscure meters you generally hear in rock/heavy metal (7/4, 11/4, etc.)

    If I mistakenly bumped up an old post my apologies nor did I mean to step on the previous post.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Color of Music View Post
    Just to add, when you see an n/8 TS, the beats are then divided into pulses. IOW, pulses 1 + 4 are really beats 1 + 2; whereas 2,3 + 5,6 are your four smaller pulses.
    Yes, except that I've heard teachers use those words the other way round: the "pulse" is the main, underlying regular rhythm - the thing you would tap your foot to, or count - which is quarter notes in 4/4, or dotted quarters in 6/8. "Beats" can then be a subdivision of that, at least in the sense you can have downbeats, upbeats or offbeats.
    IOW, a "pulse" is an even thing, while "beats" have different emphases.

    However, I'd still say (like you) there were "4 beats" in 4/4 and "2 beats" in 6/8. I just wouldn't call the 8th notes "pulses". I might call them "beat fractions", or "sub-beats".

    Your description is perfectly clear - I'm only saying that these words appear to have flexible definitions. AFAIK, there is no hard and fast conventional definition.

  8. #8
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Phil View Post
    That is great thankyou.
    So just to clarify a quater note is always one beat and half note always 2 beats etc requarless of the time sig?

    Phil
    Yes, in any time sig with "4" as bottom number, as walter says.

    Where the bottom number is something else (usually 8 or 2) then it's different.
    As explained above, in "n/8" time sigs, where the "n" is divisible by 3, then the beat is a dotted quarter (the 8ths falling into triplets).
    IOW, 6/8 = 2 beats per bar
    9/8 = 3 beats per bar
    12/8 = 4 beats per bar

    IOW I disagree with walter on how one would count 6/8. Normally (as in Irish jigs) it's too fast to be able to count "ONE-two-three-FOUR-five-six" comfortably. It would be counted "ONE-and-a-TWO-and-a".
    Other typical examples of 6/8 are tunes from the Wizard of Oz, like Follow the Yellow Brick Road, or We're Off to See the Wizard. Try counting those as ONE-two-three-FOUR-five-six, and your tongue would soon get in a twist...

    However, 6/8 can be slow enough to count all 6 beats (as in some pop ballads), but it would still be misleading to do so, making the feel sound a lot faster than it is. Eg, When a Man Loves a Woman:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8raabzZNqw
    Which of the following do you think feels right?
    Code:
          |1   .   .   2   .   .  |1   .   .   2   .   .  |
    When a man -   -   - loves a   wo----------man
    
          |1   2   3   4   5   6  |1   2   3   4   5   6  |
    When a man -   -   - loves a   wo----------man
    (The second one is not wrong, provided you emphasise 1 and 4, but the former matches the music better, IMO.)

    When the bottom number is 2 - as in 2/2 or 3/2 - then the half-note is the beat.
    This can be a little hard to understand, because 2/2 may not sound very different (nor look very different in the notation) from 4/4. The difference is a subtle one, and can be understood as being like 4/4 except that beats 1 and 3 have more emphasis than usual. It can have a "half-time" feel. In jazz, they say "in 2", meaning the bass will usually play on 1 and 3 only rather than walking in 4.
    It's not necessarily a slow feel, it can be quite fast. But for various reasons it may make sense to write it as 2/2 rather than 2/4.
    2/2 is known as "cut time", and can be indicated with a large "C" with a vertical line through it. (Because 4/4 is known as "common time", and can be indicated with a large "C".)

  9. #9
    Registered User Color of Music's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Yes, except that I've heard teachers use those words the other way round: the "pulse" is the main, underlying regular rhythm - the thing you would tap your foot to, or count - which is quarter notes in 4/4, or dotted quarters in 6/8. "Beats" can then be a subdivision of that, at least in the sense you can have downbeats, upbeats or offbeats.
    IOW, a "pulse" is an even thing, while "beats" have different emphases.

    However, I'd still say (like you) there were "4 beats" in 4/4 and "2 beats" in 6/8. I just wouldn't call the 8th notes "pulses". I might call them "beat fractions", or "sub-beats".

    Your description is perfectly clear - I'm only saying that these words appear to have flexible definitions. AFAIK, there is no hard and fast conventional definition.
    I don't verbalize "pulse" myself, and yes, (sub) divisions would be more accurate, given how it essentially breaks downs; however, "Pulse" is alot easier to say which is probably why instructors (in the US at least) use that term as most know that is a divided beat, but again pulses are taught/seen/heard/played in threes - triplets/sextuplets (sixteenths) usually - not necessarily in compound time, but simple time as well - this depends on how convoluted/complicated one wants the rhythm to be.

    I do see how beamed eighths are also pulses one and three; however, unless that marking is present or there's the appropriate rest in-between those notes, one may think that they're just beamed eighths. I've seen notation just as this.

    Most everyone counts beats - even in compound time - not thinking in terms of pulse at all whether or not they're taught the varying definitions - even when pulse are clearly heard. "You come in on 'and'", as opposed to "you come in on the third pulse." Even if they know what you mean, they still might go: "huh?"

    And the terms up/down/offbeat do denote pulses, but again, most people think in beats (not just because they see BPM is regards to tempo/tempi).

    I know of and have used the term "Harmonic Pulse," but again, I'm thinking in beats - in the sense of movement frequency - not pulses (sub-beats) unless I do something where I throw in an occasional triplet/sextuplet (grouped with 3 and 6 above the beat respectively denoting pulses)

    But yeah, I'm with you on the varying and somewhat conflicting definitions regarding a beat vs. a pulse. I guess if I were to use the analogy of a heartbeat and pulse as in the human body: Beats are made up of pulses because when hearing one's heartbeat, you hear two pulses or perhaps when you check for a pulse, you hear two sounds, no? (I wonder if this is how the musical terms were conjured up?)

    The flexibility music offers is a wonderful things, but when it evokes conflicting ideas which is what happened here, kinda. No harm, no foul, of course.
    Last edited by Color of Music; 01-04-2013 at 05:35 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    IOW I disagree with walter on how one would count 6/8. Normally (as in Irish jigs) it's too fast to be able to count "ONE-two-three-FOUR-five-six" comfortably.

    6/8 can be slow enough to count all 6 beats (as in some pop ballads), but it would still be misleading to do so, making the feel sound a lot faster than it is.
    I don't disagree that your way may be easier and/or truer feeling when considering such music at speed for some (if not most) - but for a very beginner to reading music (the original question is about whether 2 quarter notes are always equivalent to a half note) who might working out an individual measure with complications like 16th notes/16th note triplets, rests, dotted notes, grace notes etc. I think it might be easier at first to explicitly account for each eighth note beat, no?
    Last edited by walternewton; 01-04-2013 at 04:19 AM.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton View Post
    I don't disagree that your way may be easier and/or truer feeling when considering such music at speed for some (if not most) - but for a very beginner to reading music (the original question is about whether 2 quarter notes are always equivalent to a half note) who might working out an individual measure with complications like 16th notes/16th note triplets, rests, dotted notes, grace notes etc. I think it might be easier at first to explicitly account for each eighth note beat, no?
    Wouldn't that depend on the bottom number in the TS because when you see simple TSs like 2, 3 and 4/8? One (well, I at least) would think of eighth notes as beats (half a beat or "and" in common time or when the denominator is 4, of course)

    I'm listening to the A-Train arrangement and changed the denominator to 8. Four beats are still being counted, but they're coming much faster (twice as fast) than the original Common Time signature. If I could change, the TS on the staff, I'm sure the divisions and note types would change accordingly. Obviously, having now changed it to 4/2 (not the third inversion figure of a seventh), the count is at half-speed. I'd here each rendition if I'd activated the metronome.

    (Again, I went /2, C, /8 and /16)

    In fact, this is how BPM on sheet music is interpreted as the tempo is proportionate to the duration. (PPQ = 120; therefore, PPE = 240 - although mathematically it's still 120.) I think what Jon is saying is correct because I think the PP part stands for "Pulses Per" although if we use the math way to get pulse as we do with TSs, PPQ would be 360 while PPE = 720 (clearly to fast); however, we're not playing predominately triplets, are we?

    When it comes to floating tempo though (XX.Y,YY, or YYY) a bit more effort is involved (You don't often see such a figure like this, but they do exist and on manuscripts - not printed ones from software that implements floating tempos)

    Beamed eighths are easier to count and mimic (clapping, etc) then the triplet variation and don't even think about sixteenth, thirty-second, sixty-fourths and their triplet variations. These more complex rhythms can be done, but very intimidating to a beginner. Tons of classical music has these trill like divisions. (and harpists love these, that is, once they can do them)

    Then, there's the issue of clarity where performers may see quantized copies - specifically, ones that have alot more ornamentation, so visibility remains.

    Yet, even for the advanced performers who can read quantized copies because they understand the ornaments/markings, it'd be wise to have the un-quantized copy as backup, especially if there are beginners performing as well.

    As JinR said earlier about how jazz players (this includes guitarists/pianists) expect visibility and don't need leadsheets to be very literal if at all, (rock) guitarists/pianists do because they think differently than jazz players. Now those who dabble in both, well, they have the best of both worlds, obviously.

    So, my best advice would be to learn how to read and mimic both types of copies because the same piece of music won't always look the same on paper. (That's to the OP)

  12. #12
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by walternewton View Post
    I don't disagree that your way may be easier and/or truer feeling when considering such music at speed for some (if not most) - but for a very beginner to reading music (the original question is about whether 2 quarter notes are always equivalent to a half note) who might working out an individual measure with complications like 16th notes/16th note triplets, rests, dotted notes, grace notes etc. I think it might be easier at first to explicitly account for each eighth note beat, no?
    You can account for each 8th note without calling them "beats".

    In terms of understanding the time sig, or counting notes, "6/8" simply means "6 x 1/8", or six 8th notes.

    But I don't think it helps to equate the bottom figure with "beats", just because that happens to be the case in "n/4" time sigs. There is no rule which says the bottom figure in a time sig is always the same as the beat. (Not if we define "beat" in the most useful way, and I may differ from CoM here...)
    (It's a little like the relationship between key sig and key. A key sig doesn't indicate the key, only the scale. People just assume it indicates key, because commonly it happens to.)

    Of course, 3/4 also contains six 8th notes, but it shouldn't be too hard to demonstrate the difference, using musical examples. If one claps in time to a 6/8 song, one wouldn't do it intuitively to every 8th note. One would clap to the beats, IOW, the dotted quarters.

    (I accept that one might not clap to the beats in 3/4 quite as intuitively - more likely to every downbeat - but musical examples are the way to understand time sigs, as notations of metre, ie rhythmic feel. 6/8 should clearly sound like 2 beats in a bar, not 6. Problems come indifferentiating 6/8 from 12/8, or 4/4 from 2/4 or 2/2...)
    Last edited by JonR; 01-04-2013 at 11:01 AM.

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    hmmmm

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