Welcome to time in music! This series of posts will explain key concepts for time in music, including beat, pulse, beat size, cut-time, measure, phrase, count, meter and time signature. This material sets a foundation for further explorations of rhythm. We conclude by applying it to the basic time structures for a few forms of … Read more
A beat within a musical composition is a rhythmic event with some well-defined duration. Note this means a beat is not just an isolated point in time.
Within a musical composition, the pulses are the beats that mark the time skeleton; they are the ‘conducting beats’, which are naturally expressed
Cut-time music has pulses that feel somehow “large,” in a sense that is not easy to objectively define. You feel it when you hear it.
The typical explanations of cut-time are based around the idea that it is “conducted on the half note.” But this just leads to more questions: what
Beats can be ranked by size. Here are four levels in the hierarchy of beat sizes:
- Double pulse = half note = minum =
- Single pulse = quarter note = crotchet =
- Tier 1 subdivision = division of single pulse into 2 or 3 = quaver = eighth note =
- Tier 2
A song may have hundreds of pulses and subdivisions. Measures and phrases give a way to organize them into manageable groups.
Separate from the concept of pulses, a song will have counting beats, aka counts. In some songs we count the pulses, while in others we count subdivisions of the
The meter of a song gives a formal description for how the pulses and counts get organized within the measures.
There are two general types of meter, depending on whether we count pulses or subdivisions. Let’s call it pulse meter if we count pulses, and subdivision meter if we count subdivisions.
Subdivision… Read more
The time signature of a song is a notation for its meter. In written music it is shown at the start of a score, generally as a pair of numbers, one written on top of the other. It contains three components:
- Top symbol – the number of count beats per measure
Now let’s look at a few applications of the theory of meter to cut time in Latin music. Cut time means a double pulse structure, and this can be counted in a few ways – as 2 / 2, as 4 / 2, or 4 / 4 / 2+2.
Afro-Cuban cut time… Read more
To close out this series, let’s look a bit further into the time characteristics of samba. It’s an interesting case study in the concepts that have been covered so far.
As explained in the previous post, Samba has cut-time structure, i.e., it is based on a double pulse. And each double pulse is split into … Read more