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Time signature vs. meter

Posted by TJM 
TJM
Time signature vs. meter
April 14, 2011 12:16PM
Is someone able to help me understand the difference between time signature and meter? Thanks.
Re: Time signature vs. meter
April 14, 2011 12:46PM
TJM Wrote:
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> Is someone able to help me understand the
> difference between time signature and meter?
> Thanks.

"Time Signature" most properly refers to the SYMBOL itself - like "four-four" or the "C" or "cut-time" (Alla Breve) symbol.

Even more properly, it should be called the "Meter Signature", but most people don't.

The "meter" is what the meter signature tells you to do.

"Meter" is what we "feel" in music: two beats per measure, each beat having two parts for example.

Really, if a piece has two beats per measure, we call it "Duple Meter".

But that never tells us what note values are actually written.

And when we hear music, we can tell if its Duple, Triple, or Quadruple Meter, but we don't really know if the "Time Signature" is - we know it's in 4, but not if it's 4/4, 4/8, 4/2 etc. We can kind of assume it's 4/4 because that's so common, but we don't really know until we literally see the time signature or note values in the score.

In fact, the Time Signature is like the Key Signature - it's just a convenience. You can hand a musician a piece in 4/4 with no time signature at the beginning and they can still play it, and they'll figure out quickly it's 4/4, and the meter will sound like 4/4. Just like if you erase the key signature and write in the accidentals, we can still figure out the key (happens all the time in modulations in fact).

So Meter is more about the "pulse" of the music and how those pulses are grouped, while the "signature" is a symbol that tells us what note values the editor/composer decided to use to show that meter and also serves as a quick way for us to know the meter without having to add up all the note values.

Steve
JumpingJackFlash
Re: Time signature vs. meter
April 20, 2011 02:09PM
stevel Wrote:
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> And when we hear music, we can tell if its Duple,
> Triple, or Quadruple Meter, but we don't really
> know if the "Time Signature" is - we know it's in
> 4, but not if it's 4/4, 4/8, 4/2 etc.

That's why another important aspect to metre is whether it is Simple or Compound. Simple time is where the beat is divisible by 2 (so, 4/4 for example). Compound time is where the beat is divisible by 3 (so, 12/8 for example). Both 4/4 and 12/8 are "quadruple", but the former is Simple (4 crotchet beats per bar), the latter is Compound (4 dotted-crotchet beats per bar).
Tomtetom
Re: Time signature vs. meter
February 02, 2016 03:18PM
That is the most graceful and succint written explanation of time signature/meter that I have ever read.
Re: Time signature vs. meter
February 02, 2016 04:07PM
If I could only win a pulitzer!
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