Music Theory: Time Signatures

Time signatures, represented by characters that indicate the measure of the rhythm of a piece of music in whole or in part. Time signatures can be changed mid music. The time signature comes after the chromatic signs or key signature on the staff.

Figures or Signs After the Chromatic Signs

The figures or signs placed after the chromatic signs constitute the time signature, which indicates the fixed number of notes of equal value in each measure, expressed in fractional form. The denominator of this fraction represents whatever part of a semibreve or whole note is used as the unit of measurement, and the numerator, the number of such notes in each measure; thus, in 3/8 time, eight denotes that the unit of measurement is an eighth note, and three that there are three of those units, or their equivalent, in each measure. The time signature is placed only at the beginning of the piece, except when a change in the time occurs, when the new time signature is simply written on the staff where the new time should begin.

Table of Duple or Common Time Signatures

English

French

Italian

German

Signature

Beats/Measure

Simple

Binaire

Semplice

Einfacher

2/2

2

Two-twoDeux-deuxA cappella or alla breveZweizweiteltakt

2/4

2

Two-fourdeux-quatreQue-quarti or Quattro-dueZweivierteltakt

2/8

2

Two-eightDeux-huitDue-ottavi or otto-dueZweiachteltakt

4/2

4

Four-twoQuatre-deuxQuattro-mezzi or due-quatroVierzweiteltakt

4/4

4

Four-fourQuatre-quatreQuattro-quarti, Quattro-quattro, binario or ordinarioViervierteltakt

4/8

4

Four-eightQuatre-huitQuattro-ottavi or otto-qquattroVierachteltakt

4/16

4

Four-sixteenQuatre-seizeQuattro-sedicesimi or sedici-quattroViersechzehnteltakt

8/8

8

Eight-eightHuit-huitOtto-ottavi or otto-ottoAchtachteltakt

 

Table of Duple Time Signatures

English

French

Italian

German

Signatures

Beats/Measure

Compound

Ternaire

Composti

Zusammengesetzter

6/2

2

Six-twoSix-deuxSei-mezzi or due-seiSechszweiteltakt

6/4

2

Six-fourSix-quatreSei-quarti or Quattro-seiSechsvierteltakt

6/8

2

Six-eightSix-huitSei-ottavi or otto-seiSechsachteltakt

6/16

2

Six-sixteenSix-seizeSei-sedicesimi or sedici-seiSechssechzehnteltakt

12/4

4

Twelve-fourDouze-quatreDodici-quarti or Quattro-dodiciZwolfsechzehnteltakt

12/8

4

Twelve-eightDouze-huitDodici-ottavi or otto-dodiciZwolfachteltakt

12/16

4

Twelve-sixteenDouze-seizeDodici-sedice-simi or sedici-dodiciZwolfsechzehnteltakt

24/16

8

Twenty-four-sixteenVingt-quatre-seizeVentiquattro-sedici or sedici-venti-quattroVierundzwanzigssechzehmteltakt

 

Table of Triple Time Signatures

English

French

Italian

German

Signature

Beats/Measure

Simple

Binaire

Semplice

Einfacher

3 or 3/1

3

Three-oneMesure a trois-unUno-treDreieinteltakt

3/2

3

Three-twoMesure a trois-deuxTre-mezzi or due-treDreizweiteltakt

3/4

3

Three-fourMesure a trois-quatreTre-quarti or Quattro-treDreivierteltakt

3/8

3

Three-eightMesure a trois-huitTre-ottavi or otto-treDreiachteltakt

9/4

3

Nine-fourMesure a neuf-quatreNove-quarti or Quattro-noveNeunvierteltakt

9/8

3

Nine-eightMesure a neuf-huitNove-ottavi or otto-noveNeunachteltakt

9/16

3

Nine-sixteenMesure a neuf-seizeNove-sedicesi-mi or sedici-noveNeunsechzehnteltakt

5/4

5

Five-fourMesure a cinq-quatreCinque-quarti or Quattro-cinqueFunfvierteltakt

5/8

5

Five-eightMesure a cinq-huitCinque-ottavi or otto-cinqueFunfachtentakt