Time signatures

I’m having difficulty understanding certain time signatures. For example, 4/4, means 4 beats per measure or 4 quarter notes per measure. 3/4 would be 3 quarter notes per measure. That’s easy.

What about 2/4? Can I think of this as a combination of two bars with two beats each, meaning it’s half of 4/4?

I have some sheet music with 9/8, 6/4, 5/4 and 12/8. I’m lost here… I do understand there will be 9 eight notes, 6 quarter notes, 5 quarter, and 12 eight notes. But that’s really confusing especially if the time signature changes a few times in one song.

Can I think of 6/4 as two times 3/4? And 12/8 as… I don’t even know? How do I simplify these weird time signatures?

Also: Could anyone explain a 2/2 time signature? In the sheet music there’s a dotted half note followed by a quarter note which amounts to 4 beats. Where does 2/2 come from?

Hey Diana,

Interesting questions!

A lot of Brazilian music is written in 2/4.

Here’s some links to Jovino’s lessons where he talks about the ‘feel’ of 2/4 time:


Can you share some of the music you are looking at?

Perhaps just the titles, or a photo of the score showing the time signature.


Hi @Diana, and @Hayden,

just adding few ideas.

The point is, that all the signatures with even amount of beats are still the same feel (2/4 and 4/4, 3/4 and 6/4, 6/8 and 12/8 for example). The reason why they have been divided into separate time signatures are just to make reading music easier.

Also like @Hayden mentioned the Brasilian music, different styles of music have been written in certain time signature throughout the history, also as an example marches are in 2/4, waltzes in 3/4, Afro-Cuban might be written in 6/8 or 4/4 using triplets.

About the 2/2, or commonly know as ‘Alla Breve’, is supposed to be counted as 2 half notes.

With odd meters, like 5/4, 7/4 or 9/4, they usually have a ‘built in’ clave (rhythmic pattern inside the bar, for example son clave in 4/4: Clave.pdf ). 5/4 for example is commonly played with rhythm 5:4.pdf,

Now to the important question, how to count all these different signatures. My rule is, WHATEVER MAKES IT EASIER AND KEEPS YOU IN THE RIGHT BEAT, DO IT.

I mean by that, you can count any time signature divided however you feel most comfortable with, for example 2/2 I always just think as 4/4, or 6/4 as 3/4.

Let me know if this helped, thanks,


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the “down” number is an indication on duration

1 would mean whole note

2 would mean half note

4 means quater note

8 means eighth note

16 would mean sixteen

binary have an accent on the first, 4 on 1 and 3 valse on 1and so on

the upper number indicate how much of the lower indication you have per bars

2/4 means 2 quater noted

3/4 means 3 quater notes

4/8 means 4 eighth note

5/4 means 5 eighth noted

2/4 means so you can think of 4/4 if you prefer, but it can mean the author want exactly the same pulse on the first.

4/4 some times the first accent is a little bit stronger than the third.

trashhard rock could be in better in 2/4 more than in 4/4

so… just think of best pulsation the author was thinking of.

complex as 3+3+4 /4

means you have 10

but with differents accents

(it is not triolets)

sorry… I explain it a a very basic way…

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Can you share some of the music you are looking at?

Yes, here they are, sorry for bad quality photos.

Hi @diana,

in these cases I would think in 3, one beat would be 8th note.

So in the first example, one bar would be 2 times 3 (8th notes)

Second example, 3 times 3 (8th notes)

And third example 4 times 3 (8th notes)

Let me know if that helps,


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Can I ask what the three pieces are? They are very pretty.

It’s from Yanni, “In My Time” piano solos booklet.