Time signature explanation?

Guz2

Senior Member
Can someone give me a really, really simple explanation as to what different time signatures are? For instance 7/8, what does the 7 mean and what does the 8 mean? Thanks. :) Also, kinda unrelated but I figured it's better to ask here than make a seperate thread: what's a breakdown?
 

Deltadrummer

Platinum Member
The top number is the number of beats in a measure. The bottom number is the note that gets one beat In 7/8: seven beats in a measure, 8th note gets one beat. In 4/4 there are four beats in a measure and the quarter note gets one beat.

In 7/8, there are 7 eight notes in that measure taht can be broken up into smaller units, as16ths and 32ths or larger units like quarter notes or even half notes.

We can parse thoe out when reading and that is breaking down. You break these down by identifying the part of the beat that the note is on, the down beat, 1-2-3-4, the upbeat or &, or the let of the triplet, for example.

You have in 7/8
1+2+3+4+5+6+7+ makes one measure.
You could have 1 trip-let 2 trip-let 3trip-let4 trip-let.

hope that helps.
 

diosdude

Silver Member
Each "bar" of music is divided into "pulses" which you can figure out by just counting the beats. Those beats are either "whole" notes, halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, etc. A time signature designates how many "pulses" are in each measure or bar and what division of note gets the pulse

For example common time is 4/4. There are 4 beats in a measure, the quarter note gets the beat. Think "twinkle twinkle little star". tap your foot to the first syllable in each word:
Twink-twink-lit-star. There is no syllable after "star" but it is held by a "rest" so that when you get to the next bar, you're tapping again on the "beat": How-Wond-What-Are.

In your query about 7/8, listen to "subdivisions" by Rush:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lu9Ycq64Gy4

The song is in 7/8. There are 7 beats per measure, the eighth note gets the beat. The opening riff, the synth taps out on 1, 3, and 5 with eighth note rests on 2,4,6 and 7. Get that rhythm in your head and try counting it: ONE-two-THREE-four-FIVE-six-seven-ONE-two-THREE-four-FIVE-six-seven-ONE-two-THREE-four-FIVE-six-seven.
 

diosdude

Silver Member
A breakdown, also called a bridge is just another part of the song that hasn't been heard before. Most modern rock/ metal bands use "formulas" in their arrangement, designating different parts of the song as "verse" and "chorus". The breakdown usually occurs after you have heard the verse and chorus a couple of times then all of a sudden there's a cool "breakdown" where the band plays something awesome or throws in a solo and then typically goes right back into the verse or chorus.

For example: Enter Sandman by Metallica, the breakdown is the part where you hear "Now i lay thee down to sleep" - all the way back to "Exit Light!", where they jump back into the chorus.
 
J

jay norem

Guest
Think "twinkle twinkle little star". tap your foot to the first syllable in each word:
Twink-twink-lit-star. There is no syllable after "star" but it is held by a "rest" so that when you get to the next bar, you're tapping again on the "beat": How-Wond-What-Are.
Wait a minute. "Star" is just a quarter note. The two "twinkles" and the "little" are two eighth notes. So it's "eighth-eighth eighth-eighth eighth-eighth quarter."
And I have no idea what being "held by a rest" means. Now, I've been placed under arrest, but never held by one.
 

Guz2

Senior Member
So...7/16 would be 1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a5e+a6e+a7e+a? Or have I just got that totally wrong? And you have no idea how long it took to write that on an iphone...LOL
 
J

jay norem

Guest
So...7/16 would be 1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a5e+a6e+a7e+a? Or have I just got that totally wrong? And you have no idea how long it took to write that on an iphone...LOL
That's correct, but it would be pretty unusual to cast a whole piece in 7/16. I'd just use 7/4, exactly the same thing. 7/16 would appear on a chart in the middle of a passage that had to be written out for syncopation purposes. Looks like something Frank Zappa would have done.
 
Just for fun.

Here is a bit of a twist for ya. A mixed time signature.



You find a lot of this stuff in the old Rush tunes of the 70's and 80's
 
So...7/16 would be 1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a5e+a6e+a7e+a? Or have I just got that totally wrong? And you have no idea how long it took to write that on an iphone...LOL

Wouldn't a measure of 7/16 just be "1e+a2e+"? We use e,+,a to denote a 1/16th note each so Guz's example above shows a measure of 7/4. Or 28 16th notes.

In addition to understanding what the top and bottom numbers signify, I try to look at time sigs as fractions. A measure of 4/4 also has 16 16th notes but we simply and we use 4/4. Which equals 1.

A 7/16 time sig. has one 16th note LESS than half a measure of 4/4. On the other hand, a measure of a time sig such as 7/4 that is greater than one (7/4 > 1), would feel like a measure of 4/4 plus 3 EXTRA 1/4 notes. In the context of a simple rock groove I would play 7/4 as kick, snare, kick, snare (then an extra) kick, snare, kick. And those seven quarter note hits would equal 7/4.

Time sigs that are less than 1, such as 7/16 or 7/8 or 15/16, almost have a rushed feeling where the beat turns around to start a new measure slightly before where we are use to hearing beats in 4/4 resolve.

A time sig as small as 7/16 might be too short and sudden for a groove and may work best as a one measure complex turnaround. I would feel a measure of 7/16 as follows with (H)ats, (K)ick and (S)nare.

K H H H S H H =Each letter is a 16th note
1 e + a 2 e +

I hope this helps!
 

Guz2

Senior Member
Just for fun.

Here is a bit of a twist for ya. A mixed time signature.



You find a lot of this stuff in the old Rush tunes of the 70's and 80's
*Head explodes* good thing I can't stand Rush, lol...Thanks for the explanations, everyone! Just one more thing: How do you count the beats in a bar? I can't tell when one bar ends and another begins
 
*Head explodes* good thing I can't stand Rush, lol...Thanks for the explanations, everyone! Just one more thing: How do you count the beats in a bar? I can't tell when one bar ends and another begins


I through in a couple of repeats on the notation this time. They are the 2 little dots on each end of the bars. This means that we would repeat these bars and could be noted as to the amount of time somewhere on the page if more than 1 repeat but not always real clearly (usually above the section being repeated). So we would count this as

|| 1 2 3 4& 5 | 1& 2 3 4 5 6 | 1 2 3 4& 5 | 1& 2 3 4 5 6 ||

I hope that helps
 
Of course it would! Seven sixteenth notes. Man...I screwed that one up! How, I don't know. Thank you.
Of course it would still be counted 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. The notation would exhibit the notes as 16ths but they would not be counted as such (1 eeh & uh 2 eeh &). This of course is goin' way out there and I have never seen a piece written in 7/16. Try counting to seven real fast sometime over and over. It ain't too easy :) More than likely I would write it in 7/8 and just throw in the extra beets in the notation if ya know what I mean i.e. adding the 16th notes where needed. Sorry about the eggheadness :)
 
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J

jay norem

Guest
Of course it would still be counted 1 2 3 4 5 6 7. The notation would exhibit the notes as 16ths but they would not be counted as such (1 eeh & uh 2 eeh &). This of course is goin' way out there and I have never seen a piece written in 7/16. Try counting to seven real fast sometime over and over. It ain't too easy :) More than likely I would write it in 7/8 and just throw in the extra beets in the notation if ya know what I mean i.e. adding the 16th notes where needed. Sorry about the eggheadness :)
No, not at all, I can't believe how wrong I got that. I just wasn't thinking, You wouldn't, of course, write a piece in 7/16. Like I said before, a measure of 7/16 would appear as part of a syncopated passage. You would only use such a meter if it was the only way to get across what you're trying to express: a written out syncopated phrase. Again, Zappa did this sort of thing a lot.
 
J

jay norem

Guest
...I'm really confused now
You have every right to be confused, and it's my fault. This example of yours, "So...7/16 would be 1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a5e+a6e+a7e+a?" is a measure of 7/4. Seven quarter notes to the bar. 1e&a is four sixteenth notes, see?
7/16 is seven sixteenth notes to the bar, 1e&a2e&.
 
You have every right to be confused, and it's my fault. This example of yours, "So...7/16 would be 1e+a2e+a3e+a4e+a5e+a6e+a7e+a?" is a measure of 7/4. Seven quarter notes to the bar. 1e&a is four sixteenth notes, see?
7/16 is seven sixteenth notes to the bar, 1e&a2e&.
You can't take all the credit there m8. I had a hand in the confusion I'm sure and I do apologize for that. Let me see if I can find my drum notation software and that would be a better help in understanding for sure. I think it is on my old computer. Stand by
 
software won't copy so I wrote a bit out for ya

What I did was gave you a simple 4/4 beat and then an example of what the 7/4 would look like with a similar beat pattern (kinda)


If this makes it worse I'm sorry 'bout that but I think this may make some sense when you see how it gets put together
 
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