Time Signature and Beat Basics

Today we’ll be covering one of the prime aspects of creating music.  Before one considers song structure, harmony, or melody, one must start with the fundamental element, the beat.  This is what lays the foundation, and the layers of the song come from there.  To properly understand what makes a beat, it is important to know the correct terminology and concepts.  Music is a language, and when one knows the terms, ideas can be communicated to other musicians.  We will cover time signature, measures, phrases, beat counts, and also what they look like on the music page.  Knowing this will help line up different drums to match the rhythm, for example.

A note is the time measure of a sound in how it relates to the music.  To make a rhythm, one puts notes together into beats.  A beat is made up of one or more notes.  Try counting 1-2-3-4, while tapping your toe along with it.  Each one of these numbers is considered a beat.  In a four count like this, when the note and the beat are the same length, the note is called a 1/4 (quarter) note.  It is also called this because this note/beat is 1/4 of a measure, typically.  A measure is made up of beats, in our current example there are 4 beats in a measure.

Now lets look at some other note lengths.  If we kept the beat the same, 1-2-3-4 (one measure), but doubled the amount of notes (making there be 8), having two notes per beat, these notes would be called 1/8th (eighth) notes.  One note is 1/8th of the measure long.

We could double the notes again, still keeping four beats per measure.  This would make us have four notes per beat, 16 in total.  These notes are called 16th (sixteenth) notes, also because there are 16 of them per measure.

This is the basically how the count works, however measures are not limited to 4 beats.  How does one know what a measure is worth in a song?  This is dictated by what is called the time signature.  The time signature controls the overall count of a song, saying how many beats are in a measure and what notes to use to make up the beats.

Let’s break down what it means when someone says a song is in 4/4 time.  The bottom 4 means each beat is worth a 1/4 note, and the top 4 means there are 4 of these 1/4 notes in a measure.  If we change it to 3/4 for example, there are 3 beats in a measure.  You get the idea.

It gets tricky when we change the bottom number to say an 8.  Let’s look at the 6/8 time signature.  The 8 on the bottom shows that the beat is using 1/8th notes, and the 6 says there are six in a measure.  We will delve further into other time signatures in future blogs.  4/4 is the typical time signature is most music.

The final term to know is what is called a phrase.  A phrase is a group of measures.  Usually a phrase will be four, eight or sixteen measures long.  Phrasing is what is used to make a verse, chorus, and other aspects to constructing a song.  When one has the time signature, puts the beats into measures, groups the measures into phrases, a song is born!  Hopefully this was helpful in understanding the fundamental concepts for creating music.  With this understanding, you can work with other musicians and also better construct your music.

Ableton Live Certified Trainer

Click here For information
about private lessons, webinars, and classes on Ableton Live and more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

Error: Please enter a valid email address

Error: Invalid email

Error: Please enter your first name

Error: Please enter your last name

Error: Please enter a username

Error: Please enter a password

Error: Please confirm your password

Error: Password and password confirmation do not match