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Time Signatures in Music

Guest Author - Allan Harris

There is a rhythm to everything, because everything vibrates or cycles.
Rhythm gives your life meaning. There is the rhythm of:

• The moon going around the sun.
• The earth going around the moon.
• The waves of the ocean.
• Day changing to night.
• The seasons.
• The stock market rising and falling.
• Your heart beat.
• Your breathing.

When you look at the world that way, you see that everything has its own “music.” In fact, someone once said that “architecture is frozen music.” Because anything that vibrates has a shape to it. And architecture has different shapes.

You can see the shape of your heartbeat rhythm on an electrocardiogram.
You can see the shape of your brain waves on an electroencephalogram.
You can see the shape of ocean waves.
And you can certainly see the shape of stock market changes from day to day.

Music copies life. And life copies music.

When people begin to dance, they dance to patterns of rhythms.
If they dance a waltz, it has a pattern of three beats that repeat.
If they dance a foxtrot, it has a pattern of four beats that repeat.

Musicians needed a way to notate those beats, so they could write using those different kinds of patterns.

If they wanted to write for a waltz, they needed a way to communicate to other musicians there were 3 repeating beats. So they notated it by saying they were writing music in 3/4 time. This is called a time signature.

The top number of the time signature shows the number of beats:

3/4 tells you the music has 3 beats: 1-2-3, 1-2-3, etc.

If the music is based on 4 beats, it might be written in 4/4 time: 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, etc.
Again, the top number shows the number of beats.

If you want music based on 5 beats, you could write it in 5/4 time:
1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, etc.

6 beats? 6/4 time: 1-2-3-4-5-6, 1-2-3-4-5-6, etc.
2 beats? 2/4 time: 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, etc.

The most common time is 4/4, so sometimes musicians abbreviate 4/4 to C, and the C stands for “common time.”

We like things to be regular because it gives us stability. It’s easier to plan. When you know summer is coming, you plan to wear summer clothes. It would be confusing if you never knew which season was coming up next.

Not enough stability in your life?

Perhaps you need a more regular time signature. What can you make regular that’s not regular now? Can you plan a shopping list once a week on Sunday and shop for all your weekly meals? Can you gas up your car once on the same day every week?

Could you pay all your bills once a month only on the same day every month? (You can ask all companies that bill you to change the cycle date).

Time signatures take the chaos out of music. And regular timing can calm the chaos in day-to-day living.

All the best,

BellaOnline’s Musician Editor
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Feel the Rhythm – of Life and Music
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Content copyright © 2015 by Allan Harris. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Allan Harris. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Sabira Woolley for details.


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