The meter in music also spelled as "metre", is how we identify the pulse or the count, and the steady beat in a song. Songs usually have a pulse in each measure that is grouped by pulses of 2, 3, or 4 (or duple, triple, and quadruple). In Western Music styles, meters are usually grouped into 2 different types: simple time and compound time. In very rare instances, a song can be made in irregular time and not follow the normal rules.
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Time signatures specify how many beats or pulses are in a measure (also known as a bar) on the top (or 1st) number, and which note value is equivalent to a beat with the second or bottom number. Time signatures are grouped into different meter classifications based on the pulse of a song. For example, the most common time signature is the "4/4" time signature in Western music, with there being 4 beats in each measure, and the quarter note is the beat. This time signature falls into the category of a simple time meter.
Learning time signatures, meters and the value of different note types can be tricky at first. It's where music theory dives pretty far into the math side of things. Here's a simple way to explain the basics.
A quarter note is played for one-quarter of a whole note. It's the most common pulse value in songs since most songs are in 4/4 time signature.
A half note is played or sung for half of a full whole note and is counted as two beats.
A whole note is counted as 4 beats, which is a full measure's worth of counting if you're in the most common time signature, 4/4.
Simple time is the first type of meter that is most widely used in Western music culture. Simple meters include the following subtypes: Simple duple, simple triple, and simple quadruple. Simple duple, quadruple, and triple just refer to the number of beats in a measure. So 4/4 time is simple quadruple meter, 3/4 time signature is simple triple, and 2/4 is simple duple.
It is important to note that simple time signatures can always be divided into groups of two. The term simple comes from the fact that each pulse or note can be divided into two.
Compound time is when time signatures get even more tricky but in a fun way! Time signatures in compound time will have an 8 at the bottom instead of a 4. This is because the beat is counted with the 8th note instead of the quarter note. Compound time meters always group the pulse into divisions of 3 instead of 2. For example, 6/8 time is the most common time signature in compound time. In each measure for the time signature of 6/8, there are 6 beats and each eighth note counts as a beat.
Hearing the difference between 3/4 in simple time and 6/8 in compound time can be quite a challenge. Here's a great video to demonstrate with audio and video to help you get a feel for the change between a pulse that can be divided into two and a pulse that can be divided into three.
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