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In written music notation, time signatures are used to portray musical rhythms by indicating how many of which type of note or beat is in each bar of written music. Time signatures are in the format of one figure over another, as in:

When reading music the figure on the top shows how many of the bottom figure there are in each bar of music.

The figure on the bottom represents the type of note length with reference to the Whole-note.
Therefore a 2 represents 1/2 notes, a 4  represents 1/4 notes,  an 8 represents 1/8 notes, etc.

So, a time signature of Waltz time = 3 quarter-notes (or crotchets) in each bar. This is Waltz time and a good example can be seen when purchasing our music duet "Circle Waltz" for whatever your solo musical instrument may be together with piano.

A time signature of reading music compound time = 6 eighth-notes (or quavers) in each bar. This time signature can be seen when reading music of our duet "It's Just Too Hard".

A time signature of = 4 half-notes (or minims) in each bar, etc. This type of time is most commonly used in church music and hymns.

Time signatures generally fall into 2 categories according to how one wishes to be able to divide up the note that equals a beat of music, in order to get a certain type of rhythm.

Simple times are used if you want to divide your beats into halves, e.g. 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-

Compound times are used to divide your beats into thirds, e.g. 1-and-a-2-and-a-3-and-a-4-and-a-

If you are learning to read music, further study material should be sought for more detailed explanations of these types of time signatures. We have a published article here.

Copyright 2006 Brian Farley, All Rights Reserved.

Author Information:

Brian Farley has been a professional Musical Director and pianist since 1974 and worked worldwide in the top echelons of the entertainment industry. His duet sheet music website "Easy Duets, Sheet Music for Schools, Musical Instrument Students" provides original musical duets and trios for early level students to play together. It also has some good free "reading music notation" information.


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If you go to our easy music pieces page you will find lots of simple but fun, original tunes to learn if you are beginning to play a musical instrument. This site also has these easy tunes arranged as duets for piano with many different solo instruments.