The most common time signature found in music is 4/4. Because it is so common, the other name we use as an abbreviation is common time (they mean the same thing). The symbol used to indicate common time is a C in the place where the time signature normally is.
As we mentioned in part 1, a time signature can have any number on the top. The most common top numbers in a base 4 time signature (beside 4) are 2 and 3. However, more complex types of music may use other numbers (ex: Take Five – from the Dave Brubeck Quartet). In these cases it is important to remember that the quarter note gets one beat (and the other rhythms are counted accordingly). The top number dictates the number of beats found in each measure, so a song in 5/4 would be counted 1-2-3-4-5 / 1-2-3-4-5. This type of counting may feel more awkward since it is less common. However, repeated use will cause a performer to become familiarized with these uncommon time signatures.
Another time signature that uses the symbol of a C is cut time. Here the C is marked with a slash to indicate that it is cut. This is an abbreviation for 2/2 since each number of common time has been cut in half.
Other Base 2 Time Signatures
The same rules apply in base 2 time signatures as far as the top number is concerned (any number can occur). The most common number is 2 due to our need for cut time (as described in the last slide). Any other time signature can be adequately covered in base 4. However, other base 2 time signatures can occur in theory. In these cases, simply count the number of beats per measure indicated by the top number, remembering that the half note receives one beat.
6/8 time is actually very similar to 3/4. Both of these time signatures contain 6 eighth notes per measure. However, they group the eighth notes differently. In 3/4, the eighth notes occur as 3 groups of two. In 6/8, they occur as 2 groups of three. Because of this, 6/8 can also be view as a triplet form of 2/4 time.
Since 6/8 time contains 2 groups of 3, performers may count only the 1st and 4th beat when the tempo gets faster. The reason for this type of counting application is similar to the use of cut time explained earlier. We call this “counting in 2” (it’s like a triplet version of 2/4).
Since base 8 time is like a triplet form of base 4, most other base 8 time signatures contain top numbers that are multiples of 3 (3/8, 9/8, 12/8…). However, other top number can occur in base 8 time signatures (in theory). In these cases, simply count the number of beats per measure indicated by the top number, remembering that the eighth note receives one beat.
Another complex occurrence in music is the existence of multiple time signatures within a piece. This is called mixed meter. Mixed meter usually exists in a regularly occurring pattern that fits into a larger meter. For example, a repeating pattern of two measures of 2/4 and one measure of 3/4 may be used as a replacement for an overall pattern of 7/4. Mixed meter can also occur with random changes, however this is less common. Music is usually composed of patterns. The more random a piece of music is, the more difficult it becomes for the listener to follow.