Simple Meter

How Do You Count Time in Musical Compositions?

3/4 time signature
By Dkirk335 (Own work) [ CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

A simple meter is a particular type of a meter, the grouping of strong and weak beats in musical composition that establishes the basic rhythm of a particular piece or section of a piece of music. Every published music composition has its meter signature (also called time signature) written at the very beginning of the piece, symbolized as two numbers placed one on top of the other and located immediately after the clef symbol.

The number on top represents the number of beats that will appear in each of the measures; the number at the bottom reports which type of note gets the beat.

In simple meter, the beats can be divided into even divisions of two. 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 time signatures are all examples of simple meters, as are any time signatures with 2, 3 and 4 as the top number (such as 2/2, 2/8, 3/2, 3/8, 4/2, and 4/8). As a contrast, compound meters can be divided into three notes.

Simple Meter Examples Explained

2/4—The 2/4 meter is also known as simple duple; the number 2 on top indicates that each measure has two beats; the number 4 at the bottom represents a quarter note. This means there are two quarter note beats in a measure. What makes 2/4 a simple meter is that the beats (2 quarter notes) can each be divided into two eighth notes (1 quarter note = 2 eighth notes).

3/4—Also known as simple triple; the number 3 on top equals three beats and the number 4 at the bottom represents a quarter note.

This means there are three quarter note beats in a measure. So in 3/4 meter, the beats (3 quarter notes) can each be divided into two eighth notes.

4/4—Also known as simple quadruple; the number 4 on top equals four beats and the number 4 at the bottom represents a quarter note. This means there are four quarter note beats in a measure.

Therefore, in 4/4 meter the beats (4 quarter notes) can each be divided into two eighth notes.

The table below will help you further understand simple meter:

Simple Meter
MeterHow Many BeatsNote That Receives the BeatDivision of Beats
2/22 beatshalf noteseach half note can be divided into 2 quarter notes (= 4 quarter notes)
2/42 beatsquarter noteseach quarter note can be divided into 2 eighth notes (= 4 eighth notes)
2/82 beatseighth noteseach eighth note can be divided into 2 sixteenth notes (= 4 sixteenth notes)
3/23 beatshalf noteseach half note can be divided into 2 quarter notes (= 6 quarter notes)
3/43 beatsquarter noteseach quarter note can be divided into 2 eighth notes (= 6 eighth notes)
3/83 beatseighth noteseach eighth note can be divided into 2 sixteenth notes (= 6 sixteenth notes)
4/24 beatshalf noteseach half note can be divided into 2 quarter notes (= 8 quarter notes)
4/44 beatsquarter noteseach quarter note can be divided into 2 eighth notes (= 8 eighth notes)
4/84 beatseighth noteseach eighth note can be divided into 2 sixteenth notes (= 8 sixteenth notes)
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Your Citation
Estrella, Espie. "Simple Meter." ThoughtCo, Sep. 9, 2017, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-simple-meter-2455908. Estrella, Espie. (2017, September 9). Simple Meter. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-simple-meter-2455908 Estrella, Espie. "Simple Meter." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-simple-meter-2455908 (accessed November 21, 2017).