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# Time Signatures by Eric Starr

Now that you have been exposed to notes and rests, you must piece them together to make rhythmical sentences. To accomplish this, you must first learn about time signatures.

There are many time signatures used in music. For example, 3/4 is used for waltzes, and 2/2 and 6/8 are typically used by marching bands. Since most rock and blues music uses 4/4, this book will focus almost exclusively on this time signature.

## Dissecting 4/4

All time signatures contain a top number and a bottom number. These numbers tell the musician two important things: (1) how many beats there are in a measure, and (2) what note value equals one beat.

This definition requires an understanding of additional jargon; namely, what a measure and a beat are. Most music is played in time; it has a pulse that once started continues until the composition 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 bar lines are used to mark each measure's borders. As you will see in FIGURE 3-21, bar lines are simple vertical lines used to separate measures.

FIGURE 3-21: Grand Staff with Bar Line

Think of 4/4 time as a fraction, even though technically it is not. You will notice in the examples found later in the book that there is no line dividing the two number fours. The fours merely sit on top of each other.

However, 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 will tell you how many beats you have in a measure. The denominator will tell you what note value equals one beat. In order to do this, though, you must first replace the numerator with a one.

Another name for 4/4 is common time. If you turn the radio on and flip through the stations, you will hear 4/4 used on most songs. No other time signature is used so often in music. Part of the reason for this is the symmetrical nature of 4/4: 2+2 is easy to dance to.

Since there is a four in the numerator, there are four beats in each measure. If you temporarily take away the top four and place a one in the numerator, you are left with one-fourth 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 each beat.

## Quarter and Eighth Notes

Quarter notes function as the pulse or beat in most of the music you will play. Ninety-eight percent 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 3-22.

FIGURE 3-22: Four Quarter Notes

Each quarter note represents a downbeat. In 4/4, downbeats equal the numbers one, two, three, and four. If you divide quarter notes into eighth notes, you will have eight of them per measure. It looks like FIGURE 3-23.

FIGURE 3-23 divided the beat into two parts. It should be counted “1-and, 2-and, 3-and, 4-and.” Ands are called upbeats. Upbeats represent the second half of a beat. A plus sign is used in this figure, and throughout the book to signify an upbeat or “and.”

FIGURE 3-23: One Measure of Eighth Notes

## Straight Eighths Versus Swing Eighths

In this book, you will play eighth notes two different ways. You will play them “straight,” and you will play them “swing.” When you play them straight, you will play them exactly as described earlier. However, when you play them with a swing feel, you will play them as triplets. To better understand this, look at FIGURE 3-24. This figure shows you one measure of triplets. Bear in mind that these are not yet “swing” eighth notes, but rather, their rhythmical underpinning.

Straight eighth notes are duple, meaning they divide into two equal parts. As you can see in FIGURE 3-25, triplets divide into three equal parts (triple). The final step in creating swing eighths is to take out the middle triplet and add a rest. When you take this note out, the swing eighths appear.

Look at FIGURE 3-26, and tap the eighth notes using the rhythm you learned in FIGURE 3-25. When you do this, you will be interpreting straight eighths as swing eighths. Why do you do this? Since triplets are hard to read, copyists have long used . This is simply shorthand. In this book, if nothing is indicated in the music telling you to interpret eighths as triplets, always read them straight.

Three Triplets = One Beat

FIGURE 3-24: Triplets

Also written using a quarter - eighth triplet pattern as seen below …

FIGURE 3-25: Swing Eighths Written as Triplets

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#### THE EVERYTHING ROCK & BLUES PIANO BOOK

By Eric Starr

1. Home
2. Rock and Blues Piano
3. Notation as a Tool
4. Time Signatures