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  • Writer's pictureTom Glasson

Grade 1:2 - Bars & Time Signatures

Welcome to lesson 2! Hopefully lesson 1 made sense to you and gave a good understanding of the basics of music, this lesson will build from there so if you are new to music, check out lesson 1 first and then come back to this one.

So, how do the notes we looked at in Lesson 1 create music?

Bars & Time Signatures

The stave is split into groups of notes, usually either groups of 2, 3 or 4 crotchets worth. These groups are called bars (or measures in US), and separated by the bar line, shown by the vertical lines across the stave below. Each bar will have the same value of notes in it.

Music Stave with Bars

The way in which the bars are divided, is dependant on the number of beats per bar, which is defined by the time signature.

For Grade 1, there are three time signatures you need to know, 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4.

Time Signatures 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4

The top number shows you how many beats there will be per bar; 2, 3 or 4.

The bottom number shows you what kind of beat. In this case, they are all crotchets (¼ notes) There can be different notes on the bottom, but we won’t need those for grade 1.

Note that this is the 'beat' of the music, the music will not only be crotchets, it represents the value of the notes in the bar, and how they will feel, we will cover this more later.

The 'beat' of the time signature is like a background beat which the music follows, you don't necessarily hear the beat as the rhythm can be anything, but it's an invisible structure which the music is following.

This diagram shows the beat within each time signature.

Time signatures for Grade 1 music Theory. The signature and the beat.
Time Signatures

So a 4/4 time signature means that each bar has the value of 4 quarter notes (or crotchets). This doesnt mean you have to use quarter notes, you can use any notes with equivalent values and we are going to look at this in the next sections.

Every bar in the piece of music has the same value. It is possible to change time signature during a piece of music by simply writing a new one, and every bar which follows will now be the new signature.

4/4 is the most common time signature, it is also called common time, and sometimes represented by the symbol below - this is an old symbol that is still in use sometimes today, it is not a letter C.

Common Time (4/4)

If you want to practice any of the techniques in these lessons, download the workbook below, it contains questions for each lesson as well as answers so you can check your progress. See you in the next one!

A Free Gift for you...

Download the Grade 1 Music Theory Workbook - An Introduction to Music Theory for free. The workbook is a written course which teaches you the entire content of Grade 1 music theory from start to finish, it is the full written version of our video course. It contains activities, with answers, to test your knowledge and give you chance to practice what you are learning.

There are 19 sections, covering every topic as well as reference sheets and materials which will come in handy as you study.

Click here to check it out.

Introduction to Music Theory Workbook

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