“Dictionary definitions” of simple meter (also called simple time) tend to be so confusing that they are of very limited use to beginning music students.
I’d therefore like to offer a simplified, more practical definition: Simple meter is any time signature with 4 or less as the top number.
The top number of a time signature in simple time is almost always 2, 3 or 4. It doesn’t matter what the bottom number is, but I’ll give some examples anyway:
2/4 means that there are two beats per measure, and each beat is a quarter note:
3/4 means that there are three beats per measure, and each beat is a quarter note:
4/4 means that there are four beats per measure, and each beat is a quarter note. 4/4 is often abbreviated as C in sheet music. C stands for common time, since 4/4 is the most common time signature:
Remember that 4/4 and common time are identical.
Here are a few more examples of simple meter:
2/8 means that there are two beats per measure, and each beat is an eighth note:
3/8 means that there are three beats per measure, and each beat is an eighth note:
4/8 is extremely uncommon, since in most cases it can be reduced to 2/4. Four eighth notes have the same duration as two quarter notes.
It’s essential to remember that this is the case only for simple time. For example, 6/8 is not the same as 3/4, even though six eighth notes indeed have the same duration as three quarter notes. The reason is that 6/8 is a compound meter and it has only two beats (each adding up to three eighth notes) per measure, not six.
2/2 is also an example of simple meter:
It is also called cut time:
Cut time is abbreviated by a C with a vertical slash through it. Here, there are two beats per measure, and each beat is a half note.
After this brief lesson you should now understand everything you need to know about simple meter!
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