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Lesson 3: Meters in double and triple time, upbeats

Created by All Star Orchestra.

Video transcript

- [Instructor] We have been discussing the note values in 4/4. 4/4 is the meter and sometimes is called 4/4 time or a time signature. This can also be notated by a large C, which is called common time. 4/4 and the large C, or common time, are used interchangeably. Let's look at some other common meters. 2/2 means two beats in a measure with a half note getting a beat. One measure of 4/4 is equivalent to 2/2, except that the unit of pulse or beat in 2/2 is a half note, while in 4/4 is a quarter note. In both cases, four quarters will be in each measure or two halves or one whole or eight eighths and so forth. 2/2 can also be notated with the large C that we just discussed, but with a line drawn through its center vertically. There are two other common meters with a two-beat feeling. They are 2/4 and 2/8. In 2/4, a quarter note gets one beat, and in 2/8, an eighth note gets a beat. A march is usually notated in 2/4 time. Let's look and listen at the middle of the third movement of Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. ("Symphony No. 4" by Pyotr Tchaikovsky) At the beginning of the movement, the string section, plucking their strings, an effect called pizzicato, are playing all eighth notes. ("Symphony No. 4" by Pyotr Tchaikovsky) Let's look and listen to the bassoon playing a section in 2/4 from the Brahms Academic Festival Overture. In this excerpt, Brahms alternates between quarter notes and eighth notes. ("Academic Festival Overture" by Johannes Brahms) All of the meters that we have discussed so far are duple meters or duple time with the beats all divisible by two. Now let's discuss some triple meters with all the beats divisible by three. The most common are 3/4, 3/8, 6/8, 9/8, and 12/8. 3/4 means three beats in a measure with a quarter note receiving one beat. If we look at the second movement of the Shostakovich Fifth Symphony, we see that it is in 3/4 or three-quarter time. This melody, played by the cellos and basses of the orchestra, is quite simple. The first measure, a quarter note, quarter rest, quarter note. Second measure, three quarters. The third and fourth measures both have quarter, two eighth and a quarter. The fifth and sixth measures, all eighth notes. The seventh, quarter, four eighths. The eighth, quarter, four eighths. The ninth and 10th, three quarters each. Then the horns enter in bar 11 and 12, playing a half note, two eighths, half note, two eighths. ("Symphony No. 5" by Dmitri Shostakovich) Now I would like us to listen to 3/4 meter that is a very different feeling. It is a work called Black Swan by the Chinese-American composer, Bright Sheng. What Bright did was to take a beautiful work written for piano by Johannes Brahms in intermezzo and write it for the orchestra. This process is called orchestration. This piece is also in 3/4 time, but it is a much softer and slower work than the Shostakovich we just listened to. Notice how it begins with what we call an upbeat. In this work, we have two eighth notes that precede the first full bar. These notes are called upbeats. ("Black Swan" by Bright Sheng) A very common use of 3/4 is in the waltz. In this example from Robert Schumann's Third Symphony's second movement, it almost sounds like a waltz. And note that it begins also with an upbeat, this time though, just one eighth note. ("Symphony No. 3" by Robert Schumann) 3/8 is like 3/4, except that the unit of beat in 3/8 is an eighth note, while in 3/4, it is a quarter note. Here is the second movement of the Beethoven Fifth Symphony. Notice that it is in 3/8, and again, it begins with an upbeat, but this time, it's a dotted sixteenth and a thirty-second note. ("Symphony No. 5" by Ludwig van Beethoven) 3/2 is a less often used time signature, and as we've learned, there are three beats in one measure with a half note receiving one beat. Let's listen to part of the finale to Stravinsky's Firebird ballet which is in 3/2. ("The Firebird" by Igor Stravinsky)