So What is Meter?
Meters, or time signatures, are ways of organizing music. They help musicians in numerous ways, but are commonly overlooked. Meter organizes music by phrase, rhythm, or by chord changes. Specifically, they organize the rhythm of the music.
There are two parts to any time signature; there is a top number and a bottom number. The top number tells you “how many” while the bottom number tells you “of what.” The top number indicates how many notes there will be per measure and the bottom number indicates what kind of note the top number is referring to.
This example would have four quarter note beats per measure.
This example would have five quarter note beats per measure.
This example would have twelve eighth note beats per measure.
The groupings in a time signature refer to how the rhythms can be divided. The rhythms are divided into groups of twos or threes. Look at the notation below to visualize this.
Notice how the first measure is completely grouped as 2+2+2+2 while the second measure is grouped as 3+3+2. There are two main reasons that groupings are important. One, it is easier for the performer to visualize how the passage should be played. Two, it gives an accurate description of how the passage should be performed.
For the most part, the first note of each grouping is given the accent. This means it will be dynamically accented more than the following notes of the same grouping.
A simple meter is a time signature where each beat is divided into two parts. Common examples of simple meter include 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4. Pay attention to the 8th notes in the following examples.
*Editor note: All of the examples in this lesson are played on a 7-string guitar. If you are a 6 stringer, you can just as easily shift all of these examples up 1 set of strings. So play the notes that were on the 7th string on the 6th, and those that were on the 6th on the 5th etc. They will sound higher, but you will still be able to practice the examples.
This example is in 3/4 meter.
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