Placing Beats In a Bar

Added on Tuesday 19 Jul 2011

The pattern of four beats to a bar and eight bars in a section is the most commonly used of all beat structures. Four beats to a bar is called common time (or 4/4). In these four-beat bars, the first and third beats are the strongest and usually receive an accented word from the lyrics (I call these on beats).

The second and fourth beats are weak, usually receiving an unaccented word (I refer to these as off beats). When a song is “in four” (or 4/4), it means there are four beats in each bar and each quarter note receives one beat. If a song is “in two” (also called cut time or 2/4), there are two beats to a bar with a quarter note getting one beat. A song “in three” (also called waltz tempo or 3/4) has three beats to each bar with a quarter note receiving one beat.

In each bar of music, you’ll find notes of different value — a whole note in a bar of 4/4 will last for four beats (the whole bar), a half note for two beats (one half of a bar), and a quarter note for one beat (one quarter of a bar). A quarter note can be subdivided further into two eighth notes (the notes coming twice as fast as a quarter note), four sixteenth notes (twice as fast as an eighth note), and eight thirty-second notes (you guessed it — played twice as fast as sixteenth notes). It’s this variation of note values that gives a melody its rhythmic movement.

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