Rhythm, in music, is the placement of sounds in time. In its most general sense rhythm (Greek rhythmos, derived from rhein, “to flow”) is an ordered alternation of contrasting elements. The notion of rhythm also occurs in other arts (e.g., poetry, painting, sculpture, and architecture) as well as in nature (e.g., biological rhythms).

What is the connection between signatures, meters and beats? How do we classify signatures like 2/4, 3/4, 6/8 to simple duple, simple triple or compound triple meters? What is actually a meter, to start with? The concept of meter in music derives in large part from the poetic meter of song and includes not only the basic rhythm of the foot, pulse-group or figure used but also the rhythmic or formal arrangement of such figures into musical phrases (lines, couplets) and of such phrases into melodies, passages or sections (stanzas, verses) to give what Holst (1963, 18) calls “the time pattern of any song”. Meter is often essential to any style of dance music, such as the waltz or tango, that has instantly recognizable patterns of beats built upon a characteristic tempo and measure.

So now that the meter concept is (I hope) clear, the next question is “how can I identify meters and signatures?” Read below to understand.

Understanding Meters


Meters and Mandolins

Summarising the above, to identify a meter type, we start by counting how many beats a measure contains. Mandolinists have a simple tool to do that, their pick. Picking with its up-down movement greatly helps in counting notes and beats.

When we have two beats we have a duple meter, three beats gives us a triple meter and four beats is a quadruple. And then, if a beat is divided into two notes, then we have a simple meter. If a beat is divided into three notes, we have a compound meter.




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