How to Interpret the Time Signature

bright guitar color

In sheet music, the time signature will have one number above the other, or if the values are the same, the time signature may comply with a convention that allows for the use of a symbol instead. The number at the bottom of the time signature, indicates the length of the basic note that forms the pulse of the beat.

The higher the value of the bottom number of the time signature, the shorter the length of the pulse note is. For example, if the bottom number is ì4î then the pulse notes are ëquarter notesí or ëcrotchetsí.

The top number of a time signature indicates how many pulse notes there are per group of beats. Thus, if the time signature is 3 over 4, then the beat grouping consists of three crotchets, or quarter notes. This particular time signature is often used in waltzes, with the emphasis on the first note.

Most of the pop, dance and rock music that is heard on the radio, or music shows, has a 4 over 4 time signature. This time signature used to be used for marches, but also lends itself to dance music and most modern guitar music.

Due to its frequent use, it became known as “common time” and is sometimes denoted as a lower case C, instead of 4 over 4. In the Sixteenth century, the C stood for imperfect time and it symbolized a time signature of 2 over 4.

Another symbol you might come across when seeing time signatures in sheet music, is a lower case C with a single vertical line through it. This stands for “cut time”, known as “alla breve”, and it represents a time signature of 2 over 2. This means the beat grouping consists of two half notes, or semi-breves.

In sheet music notation, the time signature is also illustrated by the vertical lines, which split the song into bars. Each bar contains the note groups indicated by the time signature.

(One critical mistake beginners make is to be blindly playing tabs without understanding what they are playing. Yeah I am guilty of this when I just started playing the guitar).