Now that you have been exposed to notes and rests, you must piece them together to make rhythmical sentences. But in order to accomplish this, you must first learn about time signatures. There are many time signatures used in music; however, most of this book will focus on 4/4.
Another name for 4/4 is
Understanding 4/4 Time
All time signatures contain a top number and a bottom number. These numbers tell the musician two important things:
Number of beats in a measure (the top number)
What note value equals one beat (the bottom number)
You're probably asking yourself, “What's a beat and what's a measure?”Most music is played in time; it has a pulse that, once started, continues until the tune reaches its end. This pulse is called the beat.
Notes and rests are segmented into smaller compartments of time. These boxes of time are called measures or bars. Notes and rests are contained within measures, and measure lines are used to mark each measure's borders. As Figure 3-12 illustrates, measure lines — usually called bar lines — are simple vertical lines used to separate measures.
Two measures with bar line
Think of 4/4 time as a fraction even though technically it is not. You will notice in standard notation that there is no line dividing the two number fours; the fours merely sit on top of one another. For educational purposes, temporarily accept 4/4 as a fraction.
All fractions have a top number called a numerator and a bottom number called a denominator. The numerator tells you how many beats you have in a measure. Since there is a four in the numerator, you can say that there are four beats in each measure.
The denominator tells you what note value equals one beat. In order to find this, temporarily replace the numerator with a one. Now, you have ¼, or a quarter. This tells you that the quarter note equals the beat. So in 4/4, you have four beats in a measure, and the quarter note represents (or equals) each beat.
Quarter and Eighth Notes
Quarter notes function as the pulse or beat in most of the music you will play. Most of the music you will hear uses the quarter note as its heartbeat. When you place four quarter notes into a measure of 4/4, it is counted like Figure 3-13.
Four quarter notes
Each quarter note represents a downbeat. In 4/4, downbeats equal the numbers one, two, three, and four. If we divide quarter notes into eighth notes, we will have eight of them per measure. Figure 3-14 shows one measure of eighth notes.
In Figure 3-14 the beat was divided into two parts. It should be counted “one and, two and, three and, four and.” The “ands” are called upbeats. Upbeats represent the second half of a beat.
One measure of eighth notes