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Sheet Music Theory: Time Signatures

Aug 27, 2008
If you are a new music student there will be a few things you must learn before you can read sheet music. One of the first questions you might hear is what a beat might be. Most new music students will give the only answer that they have. They will answer that they do not know. In a rough sort of way a beat could be considered a measurement of time but it is also more, and less, than that.

The first thing that determines the definition of a beat is the time signature that is found at the front of the stave on a piece of sheet music. It is represented by one number placed above another. One of the most common time signatures in composition is that of 4/4 time. The first thing you must do is to break the time signature down and figure out exactly what it is telling you. The top number four in this particular time lets you know that there are four beats in each bar. The bottom number is a little more daunting for beginners. It can involve more than most can comprehend at the beginning.

One of the reasons that 4/4 time is so popular with many new music students is that it is easier to understand the breakdown of the two figures. In 4/4 time the beats can be easily shown by using a quarter note for each beat. When you move on to other time signatures you will find that other notes can actually be worth one beat also but once you understand the bottom figure of the time signature itself you will easily comprehend the value of one beat within that particular piece of sheet music.

When looking at your time signature keep in mind that the bottom number is actually a fraction of a whole note. In 4/4 time this means that each whole note can be divided into four parts. You could also ask yourself the question, "four of which sort of note will equal one whole note?" In this case it is four quarter notes that equal one whole note. Basically what you are looking at is a description letting you know that each beat is equal to one quarter note and that there are four quarter note beats in each bar.

Another example would be to use a time signature such as 2/2 time. According to the bottom number there would be two parts when you divide the whole note out thusly. This would end up as a half note, so each beat would be worth one half note and there would be two half notes in each bar. There are many more kinds of time signatures that you will learn as a music student but for many of the this basic technique will help you to understand the basic of the time signature when reading your sheet music. Once you move on to reading signatures such as 6/8 time or even more complex ones such as 12/8 you will find that they are not so daunting as you might have first thought.
About the Author
Victor Epand is an expert consultant for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music, guitar tab, and home theater audio. You can find the best marketplace at these sites for guitars, drums, keyboards, sheet music reading, guitar tab, and home theater audio.
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