# T HE T IME S IGNATURE Classical Voice Conservatory- Theory I.

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T HE T IME S IGNATURE Classical Voice Conservatory- Theory I

W HAT A T IME S IGNATURE D OES A Time Signature is that fraction looking thing at the beginning of music, and it tells us two very important things: How many beats there are per measure. What note gets 1 beat.

You can have a variety of combinations of numbers. Ive personally seen some really weird things.

B EATS VS. N OTES There is a difference between a beat and a note. A Beat is the pulse of the music, it establishes its speed, or tempo and is steady, with various exceptions (i.e., tempo rubato). A Note is a symbol that represents a particular value. For instance, we all know that a quarter note is worth 1 beat, a half note is worth 2, etc.

You can have several notes in a measure of 2/4 that add up to 2 beats. But you can only have 2 beats per measure. All these notes and rests add up to 2 beats, with the exception of the incomplete measure.

T HE B OTTOM N UMBER

W HY D OES IT M ATTER ? Weve all been told by our music teachers that in a measure of 4/4 time, the quarter note gets one beat. And weve all thought to ourselves, well duh. But the thing about the bottom number is that it has a unique ability: it has the ability to change the values of all notes.

Going Back to 4/4 time, the bottom number again tells us that a quarter note is worth one count or beat. So lets take a look at this rhythm. Can you clap and count it?

What would happen if I changed the numbers from a 4 to a 2? How would you clap and count the same rhythm as before?

If youre counting it the same way, you are incorrect! Because of the change in the bottom number of the time signature, the quarter note is no longer worth one beat: the HALF NOTE IS!! (The 2 represents the half note, like in a real fraction, ½, etc…)

As a result, the values of all the other notes have been altered as well. Each note is worth half of what it was in 4/4 time. 2 beats 1 beat ½ a beat 1 ½ beats

So if you were composing a piece, choosing a time signature can affect how the piece could be interpreted and performed.

What if the bottom number was changed to an 8? Then the 8 th note would be worth one beat! So if the 8 th note is worth one beat, how much would a quarter note be? A half note? A whole note? A dotted half note?

Lets say we have a rhythm in 4/8 time. How would this be performed? Before we can try, we have to make sure that we will perform it rhythmically correct by looking at the time signature. Lets take a look at the rhythm of this melodic passage:

Recall that the bottom number of the time signature tells us what note gets the beat. An 8 represents an eighth note. Since the bottom number gives the eighth note the beat, this changes how much the eighth note is worth. Originally an eighth note is worth ½ a beat. But now since the eighth note gets the beat, it is now worth 1 beat, the same as a quarter note. 1 2 3 4 eighth note = 1 beat! 4 beats per measure 1 count Yup! It checks out!

Since the eighth notes value has changed from ½ a beat to 1 beat, that means all the other notes values have changed too. Lets figure out how many beats all the other notes in this example are worth.

This rhythm contains half notes and quarter notes as well. In order to figure out how many beats the half note and quarter note get, we must first find out how many eighth notes fit into them. Lets start with the quarter note.

In 4/4 time, two eighth notes are equal to one quarter note: 1 count ½ + ½ = 1 count

In 4/8 time, the fact that a quarter note is equal to 2 eighth notes doesnt change. The only thing that has changed are how much each note is worth. Since the eighth note in 4/8 time is now worth 1 beat, 2 eighth notes are now worth 2 beats. So if a quarter note is equal to 2 eighth notes, and in 4/8 time an eighth note is worth 1 count, how many beats is a quarter note worth in 4/8? 1 count ?

Now lets take these same steps with the half note. In 4/4 time, a half note is worth 2 counts, which means it is equal to 4 eighth notes: 2 beats 1/2 1 1

Once again, the fact that 4 eighth notes are equal to 1 half note DOES NOT CHANGE! Its HOW MANY BEATS EACH NOTE IS WORTH THAT CHANGES!!! So if its true that: - 4 eighth notes = 1 half note; - And an eighth note is worth 1 beat in 4/8 time;

How many beats is a half note worth in 4/8 time? 1 1 1 1 ?

So after all that, we have established the following: That in 4/8 time: 4 counts 2 counts 1 count

Now lets try out the rhythm of this melodic passage in 4/8 time: 1-2-3-4 1-2 3-4 1 2 3 4 1-2-3-4

F UN E FFECTS WITH T IME S IGNATURES

Time signatures have an interesting effect on the feel of different compositional works. We all know how a 4/4 time signature feels, with the strong beats on 1 & 3, and ¾ time, with its strong beat on 1. Composers will oftentimes use multiple time signatures to create different feels.

Do you recognize this passage?

Minus the last note being wrong (it should be a D, not a C,) this rhythmic and melodic passage is derived from America, from the musical Westside Story, composed by Leonard Bernstein.

Now Leonard Bernstein could have stayed in 6/8, with 6 beats per measure and the eighth note getting one beat. But instead he chose to use alternating time signatures. Why is that? This is my personal opinion, and I feel very strongly that Im correct in saying this: to change the feel of the rhythm.

If you were to divide 6 by 2, you would get 3. Notice how the eighth notes in the first measure are grouped: They are grouped in 2 groups of three. This gives us a sense of six small beats that fit into two large beats total: 2 1 1 2 3 4 5 6

As Im sure you are aware, this song is really fast. Having to conduct in 6 would be a logistics nightmare, not to mention exhausting. Take a look at the conducting pattern:

Dividing the 6 counts into groups of 2 would not only make for a wiser and more efficient conducting choice (you would be conducting in 2), but would also tell the orchestra to add stress to the 2 large beats. So instead of the orchestra performing six individual beats with equal sound, the orchestra will accent the 2 large beats (beats 1 and 4), and as a result the musicians and the audience will hear that passage in 2 rather than 6.

Go from this….To this! See how the 6 beats are divided between the 2 conducting pattern?

If you listen to the music carefully, youll notice that even the cast stresses the 2 large beats as they sing: I like to BE in a - ME - RI - CA!

The time signature not only can influence the feel of the music, but the placement of stress and accents can influence the mood and the choreography. Lets watch this scene from Westside Story and observe; lets try conducting it as well! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e2igZexpMs

How do you think the time signature affected the overall performance?

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