Beats and Meter

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Beats are used as a way of counting time when playing a piece of music. Beats give music its regular rhythmic pattern. Beats are grouped together in a measure, the notes and rests correspond to a certain number of beats. The grouping of strong and weak beats is called meter. You can find the meter signature, also called time signature, at the beginning of every music piece, it is the 2 numbers written after the clef.

The number on top tells you the number of beats in a measure; the number at the bottom tells you what note gets the beat.

There are different kinds of meter signatures, the most commonly used are:

4/4 Meter 

Also known as common time, this means there are 4 beats in a measure. For example 4 quarter notes (= 4 beats) in a measure will have the count - 1 2 3 4. Another example is when there is a half note (= 2 beats), 2 eighth notes (= 1 beat) and 1 quarter note (=1 beat) in a measure. When you add the beats of all the notes you come up with 4, you thus count it as 1 2 3 4. In 4/4 meter the accent is on the first beat. Listen to a music sample with a 4/4 meter.

3/4 Meter

Used mostly in classical and waltz music, this means there are three beats in a measure. For example 3 quarter notes (= 3 beats) will have the count - 1 2 3. Another example is a dotted half note which is also equivalent to three beats.

In 3/4 meter the accent is on the first beat. Listen to a music sample with a 3/4 meter.

6/8 Meter

Mostly used in classical music, this means there are 6 beats in a measure. In this type of meter the eighth notes are commonly used. For example 6 eighth notes in a measure will have the count - 1 2 3 4 5 6.

Here the accent is on the first and fourth beats. Listen to a music sample with a 6/8 meter.