Simple Meter

“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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