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In more traditional music teaching it is often the case that we look at
something musical that is written down and try to work out how it works.
When it comes to time signatures there is a great tendency to use a
mathematical approach. Looking at things from a more musical perspective is
usually better, so here are some thoughts about time signatures starting from
the perspective of the music and then ending up with the theory behind it.
In the main there are three main basic time signatures. Two beats in a bar,
three beats in a bar and four beats in a bar. There are others but let’s start
with the very basics.
Two time (sometimes called “duple time”) – When in two time, there is a
natural accent on every second beat of the music. This is indicated in the
music by having a bar line after every two beats worth of music. The first note
after the bar line has a natural accent and is stronger that the other notes.
Three time (sometimes called “triple time”) – When in three time, there is a
natural accent on every third beat of the music. This is indicated in the music
by having a bar line after every three beats worth of music. The first note after
the bar line has a natural accent and is stronger that the other notes.
Four time (sometimes called “quadruple time”) – When in four time, there is a
natural accent on every fourth beat of the music. This is indicated in the music
by having a bar line after every four beats worth of music. The first note after
the bar line has a natural accent and is stronger that the other notes.
Please note that the function of the bar line in music is to show you where the
strong beats happen. It is immediately after the bar line. (N.B. The bar lines
are not there to stop the notes falling out of the end of the stave ..!!)
Once we have established the very basics of how many beats there are in a
bar, i.e. whether the underlying beat of the music goes 1 2 1 2 or 1 2 3 1 2 3 or
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4, then we need decide what sort of beats they are. Basically
there are two fundamental beats known as simple and compound.

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