If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Lesson 3: Meters in double and triple time, upbeats

Created by All Star Orchestra.

Want to join the conversation?

  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user ChiefChakra
    I'm a little confused with the timings I guess. What would be the difference between a song say in 3/4 the whole notes counting as 1 beat and a song that says 3/2 and just switching the whole notes to half notes, so they still count as 1 beat? Wouldn't that still be the same song?
    (49 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf blue style avatar for user CTG
      Both 3/4 and 3/2 are the same time signatures. This is shown that in 3/4, there are three quarter notes per measure, and in 3/2 there are three half notes per measure. Both time signatures are the exact same only if the quarter note in 3/4 gets the beat, and the half note gets the beat in 3/2. This results in each time signature having equally three beats per measure. It is unnecessary to alter a song between 3/4 and 3/2 because the counting system is already matched. But if you want the songs to be at equal length, you have the double the value of every note such as making quarter notes half notes and making eighth notes quarter notes.
      *February 3rd, in addition to my answer:
      3/4 and 3/2 are similar time signatures because 3/2 is defined as a compound meter of 3/4. Similar compound meters of 3/4 also include 6/8 and 9/8, dealing with three beats per measure. Switching the composition from 3/4 to 3/2 is usually meant for the composer or conductor, to make his/her conduction more efficient, not excessive. A similar example of this is shown in the conversion of common time (4/4) to cut time (2/2). Due to the conductors decision and because the piece was fast enough, the conductor cannot handle conducting each of the four beats, but instead conducts twice a measure representing the half notes to be much easier and more effective. The reduction of the fraction from 4/4 to 2/2 shows the counting system is matched, thus the reduction of 3/4 to 3/2 has a matched counting system, but might be twice as slow.
      (70 votes)
  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Audacia
    I'm italian and I always wondered why the music notation is in italian : I mean - forte, piano, pizzicato, crescendo etc
    (8 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf blue style avatar for user Peterson
      What we today consider 'classical' music had its origins in Italy during the Renaissance. Italian and Sicilian composers were beginning to compose music in a new way, and performances began to take on a revived an expanded meaning and social function. Also, notation -- the notes and articulations that allow musicians to read music -- was developed during this time period in Southern Europe, and thus the Italian markings used in the printed material was distributed throughout all of the Europe, and influenced future composers to use Italian as a sort of common written language. Only since the early-1900s has this practice started to fall out of style, with the development of distinct musico-national identities.
      (14 votes)
  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user ave
    when you demonstrate with music could you use simpler music so that people who are completley new to music can understand?
    (9 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • blobby green style avatar for user Daniel Wong
      Some of the most simple music in modern history is the most iconic and very subtle. One single note in 3/2 timing in one bar can be considered harder to play than 16 quarter notes in 4 bars 4/4 timing. The simpler it gets the harder it is :)
      (0 votes)
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Genevieve Cai
    What exactly is a movement?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user IzzI
    I still don't get the time signatures? What does the top number and the bottom number mean?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • aqualine sapling style avatar for user Lizzy
      The top number is how many beats one measure will have.
      And the bottom number says what kind of note would be 1 beat.
      So lets take 6/8. So here there will be 6 beats in the measure, and an 8th note will be 1 beat in the measure. So if we make a full measure from this specific measure, it would be six 8th notes, and the measure will close.
      I hope this helps! :)
      (4 votes)
  • leaf blue style avatar for user Katie
    This is sorta random, but is Irish and Celtic music in any specific time signature? Waltzes are in 3/4 time, is it the same type of thing?
    (3 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
    • leaf blue style avatar for user Peterson
      Traditional Irish/Celtic music does not always have a particular time signature; it is often dependent on what genre is being performed. For example, reels are in 4/4 time, jigs are frequently in 6/8 time (although they can also be 9/8 or 12/8), while polkas are in 2/4 time. Again, it all depends on what type of folk song genre is being played.
      (1 vote)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Chris Ce
    Does the conductor do anything besides move his arms to the music?
    (2 votes)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • female robot grace style avatar for user Katie Mills
    At , the tempo andante teneramente is shown in"The Black Swan". What does this mean?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user timestorm24
    it seems, to me at least that the larger the number on the bottom of the time signature, the slower the piece seems to be (not always I'm sure). But the smaller the note is that gets a beat, the more times it can be played, or has to be played? I find the correlations difficult to distinguish.
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user
  • piceratops seed style avatar for user DurpyHeil
    How many seconds is a beat?
    (1 vote)
    Default Khan Academy avatar avatar for user

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)