Bar Lines and Time Signatures Explained

Bar Lines and Time Signatures Explained

Grade 1

In the previous lesson, we explored how music is divded into beats, and different notes represent different durations of beats.

However, not only is music divided into beats, these beats are grouped together into equal patterns. Each group/pattern of beats is called a bar or measure, the length of each bar or measure is represented by time signatures.


Time Signatures Explained

Time signatures state the amount of beats between two bar lines. They are two numbers on top of one another.
It is important to recognise that they are not fractions, and unlike fractions there is no line between the two numbers.

A time signature looks like this:4/4 Time

The top number in a time signature signifies the number of beats in each bar.
The bottom number signifies the type of beat in a bar. In this instance, a 4 in the bottom means each beat is a crotchet.

Therefore, the time signature we just saw, means there is 4 crotchet beats in each bar.

There are three time signatures you need to know about for grade one, 2/4; 3/4; and 4/4.

Here is what they all mean:

2/4 Time Signature Explained 3/4 Time Signature Explanaed 4/4 Time Signature Explanaed


Bar Lines and Bars

Each bar is divided up by bar lines – vertical lines.

Below are three examples of three bars, in 2/4 time, 3/4 time and 4/4 time, with the beats all annotated.
Your knowledge of different types of notes covered last lesson will come in useful here:

2/4 Time Signature Explained 3/4 Time Signature Explained 4/4 Time Signature Explained

You will also notice that at the end of each of those lines, there is a double bar line. Double bar lines appear at the end of any piece of music, and is important to remember whenever writing music, whether for an exam or not.

A time signature appears only at the start of each piece of music. The time signature will only appear once at the start of the music, unless the music changes from one time signature to another, however this isn’t necessary to know at Grade 1.

Common Time

It is also important to note that a 4/4 time signature can also be signified by a C (see below). We would call this ‘Common time’. It may be worth noting, however, that the C does not stand for common time, it instead originates from the different ways of writing music in the Renaissance era.

Common Time Signature Explained

Common time occurs extremely regularly, especially in earlier classical music.