Understanding Meter and its Application

Compound Meter

A compound meter is a time signature where each beat is divided into three parts.  Common examples of compound meter include 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8.  The common beat or pulse in compound meter is a dotted quarter note.  Each dotted quarter note is divided into three eighth notes.

This example is in 9/8 meter.

9/8 meter example


Odd Meter

An odd meter is a time signature that includes both simple and compound meter.  This happens due to the odd number notes indicated by the top number of the meter.  Let’s use 7/8 as an example.  7/8 can be divided into a few different ways

This example is in 7/8 meter.

7/8 meter example


Same Number of Notes, But a Different Meter?

With certain meters, it is simply more appropriate to label a time signature a certain way.  The most common and obvious example of this would be a 6/8 meter vs. a 3/4 meter.  Both have the same number of eighth notes, however, these two meters have very different sounds and a very different feel.  Listen to the following example.  The exact same thing will be performed, however, it will change from a 6/8 feel to a 3/4 feel.

example in 6/8 and 3/4 meter


Notice how the 6/8 meter has its eighth notes grouped as groups of 3 while the 3/4 has its eighth notes grouped as groups of 2.

Naming particular meter comes down to three things.  One, how many notes are in each measure and two, the feel of the meter and three, what will make it easiest for the performer to understand, interpret, and visualize on paper.

Guitar Lesson Navigation

<<< Page 1, What is Meter – Simple Meter

Page 3, Polyrhythm and Polymeter >>>
Page 4, How to Apply Meter >>>

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