Piano Lesson Six: Time Signatures and Note Values

Howdy Everybody, and Welcome again to our ‘How To Play Piano’ and ‘How to Read Music’ lessons. Keep up that practice, as ‘practice makes perfect’. – Good Wishes with your music education –  Bianca Te Tremelo.

Well – here we are on our sixth piano  lesson.  I hope you are becoming even more enthusiastic about your music study than you were in the very beginning.  By now you will be beginning to understand about how music works, and that once you understand the language of music, you will never look back.  Your musical experience will be enriched for life.  So – more on the nitty gritty of music……….

What is a Time Signature?

A Time Signature is an essential part of music notation.  Without a time signature, we would have no idea of the rhythmic value, or the time of a piece of music. Without a time signature, there would be no BEAT – the notes would meander aimlessly about without any rhythmic shape,  a little like writing an essay or a book without any punctuation or capital letters at all.

The Time Signature dictates to us what the pulse of a piece of music is.  Each bar has to abide by the ruling of the time signature which is stated at the beginning of every piece of music.

The most common  simple time signatures are 3/4 and 4/4, however, there are many other time signatures, including compound time signatures such as 6/8 and 12/8, or 12/16.

The top figure of the time signature indicates HOW MANY BEATS  there will be in every bar.  The lower figure tells us what NOTE VALUE these beats will have.

So – look to the top figure to tell you what the pulse, or the beat of a piece of music is.  For instance, if the time signature is 3/4, then there will be three beats per bar. We know that these three beats will be Crotchet beats, because a 4 on the bottom of a time signature indicates that the note will be a Crotchet.

3/4  is a waltz time. We will count one, two, three, for every bar of the piece of music.  Every bar will contain only three beats, even though these beats might be broken up into shorter notes.

March Time usually consists of four regular  crotchet beats.  This is called 4/4 time.  The top figure in the time signature, again, tells you how many beats there will be in each bar, so if it says 4/4, there will be four beats.  The bottom figure in 4/4 time, which specifies the note value which these beats are going to have, tells you that the beat is a ‘four’ value, and this specifies a crotchet beat.

The List of Note Values as used in the bottom figure of a time signature are:

Minim    = 2

Crotchet = 4

Quaver   = 8

Semiquaver = 18

Demisemiquaver = 32.

You can see that the figure doubles each time:  This is a fixed element of the Time Signature.  These figures do not change.  We alwys know that a 4 on the bottom line indicates a Crotchet.  An 8 on the bottom line always indicats a Quaver, and so on.

Note ValuesThese are important, as they are used in connection to both TOP and BOTTOM figure of the time signature.  In working out combinations of notes when you are writing our music, or working out exactly how a rhythm will go, it is important to understand the logic behind the note values.  You might have 3/4 which will mean that you have three crotchet beats in a bar.  But these crotchet beats may be broken up into 6 quaver beats, which still has the value of 3 crotchets.  Or you may have 2/4 time which indicates two crotchet beats in a bar:  One Minim held along the bar will still have the value of two Crotchets.  There are many different combinations which can be used in any given time signature.

Learn these values:

A Breve is worth 2 Semibreves.

A Semibreve is worth  2 Minims, or 4 Crotchets.

A Minim note is worth 2 Crotchets, or 4 Quavers.

A Crotchet note is worth 2 Quavers, or 4 Semiquavers.

A Quaver note is worth 2 Semiquavers, or 4 Demisemiquavers.

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3 Responses to Piano Lesson Six: Time Signatures and Note Values

  1. Carol says:

    Shouldn’t a semiquaver be = to 16 and not 18?

    • Bianca Tremolo says:

      Yes – you are right – will correct that error. Thankyou for correcting me – a typing error, I think.

  2. Gafo says:

    So informative, thank you, am a trainer in music and piano lessons too and am glad am getting much here, be blessed.

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