What Is Meter in Music?

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ONE, two, three, four. ONE, two, three, four. Musical rhythm can be broken down into meters, usually denoted by a four or eight count in Western-style music. But what is meter in music?

Simply put, the meter of music is the pattern that the beat makes. These are usually made up of a series of stressed and unstressed beats, and meters come in three forms: simple, compound, and complex.

Types of Meter in Music

1. Simple

If the music’s beats can be divided into twos, the meter is called “Simple.” For instance, if the 3/4 time signature comes with three quarter notes per bar, you can divide each note into two eight notes. That’s a simple meter.

2. Compound

If a simple meter can be divided into twos, a compound meter, on the other hand, each beat is divisible by three. For example, a 6/8 piece has 6 quavers. That implies that the quavers are grouped in threes, forming two dotted crotchet beats which is an indication that the piece is a compound meter.

3. Complex

As its name suggests, this type of meter is more complex. You can not divide the beats either by two or by three. Instead, it combines simple and compound beats together. For instance, a 5/8 time signature indicates a complex meter.

What Is Measure?

A measure is defined as a single unit of time that features a specific number of beats. When reading music, each measure can be identified by the vertical bars at the beginning and end of the measure.

What Is Time Signature?

While looking at sheet music, you will see two numbers stacked on top of each other, much like a fraction without the dividing line between them. Common examples are 4/4, 3/4, 6/8, or 3/2.

The way to read these numbers is to recognize the top number as the amount of notes in the measure and the bottom number as the type of notes in the measure. For example, 4/4 indicates there are four quarter notes in that measure. 3/2 indicates there are three half notes in that measure.

Now that you understand, “What is time signature in music?” it is possible to link it back to the meter. Again looking at the top number, it’s possible to identify the meter as simple, compound, or complex. A 4/4 time signature denotes a simple meter because four is divisible by two. A 6/8 time signature denotes a compound meter because six is divisible by three.

Additional Classifications

When learning music theory, you may also come across the terms duple, triple, and quadruple, which again refers to the number of beats per measure. Then you pair those terms with the types of meters previously discussed to classify the time signature.

Duple is defined as two beats per measure, and simple meter again shows you that each beat can be divided by two. So examples of simple duples are 2/4, 2/2, and 2/8.

Triple follows on and refers to three beats per measure. A simple triple is a time signature that includes three as the top number and a bottom number which is divisible by two. For example, 3/4, 3/2, and 3/8.

Again following the same logic, a simple quadruple indicates four beats per measure (top number) and a meter divisible by two (bottom number), such as 4/4 or 4/8.

Moving to compound meters (divisible by three), follow the same naming convention with duple, triple, and quadruple. 6/8 time is a compound duple because six is divisible by three (compound), and the meter, eight, is divisible by two.

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Bobby is a viola player who currently lives in Seattle. He has been playing viola for over 20 years in various orchestras.


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