Music meter

Appreciating music as the universal language of the soul is more of an instinct and should not be tiring. However, dealing with music formally exposes us to a lot of technical aspects that may appear a little complicated especially for beginners who eventually get exhausted in the learning process.

But not all technical issues remain confusing. In music studies, meter is perhaps easiest understood. It is almost an automatic information absorbed by a listener without having to look at a chart or any written guide. The simple hand clap or stomping of the feet acquaints our ears so we can easily follow a tune. Even children can be surprisingly responsive to the music they listen to. Because it is fundamental, learning music meter would not take too much of your time. By simply focusing the mind, one can easily go to the next level.


Music meter is the arrangement of rhythm in fixed, regular patterns with a uniform number of beats [or pulse] in uniform measures (Dudley et al, pp. 240).  At this point, the word ‘timing’ becomes the main concern. Formal musical pieces indicate the meter applied through time signature, which is the fraction number indicated beside the clef symbol at the beginning of the staff or that five horizontal placement lines that hold the notes (Fig 1).

The numerator tells us how many basic beats there are in each measure, and the denominator tells the basic duration value of the beat (Dudley et al, pp. 241). It consists of equal divisions and subdivisions translated into counts of 1-&–2-&-1-&-2 (Schmidt-Jones, pp. 3) or ONE two, ONE two (Dudley et al, pp. 241). This depends on the types of music meter used.

Fig. 1  The staff, plural form: staves

There are actually two traditional patterns of music meter widely used in Western music, the duple, triple, and quadruple, which breaks into simple and compound sub-patterns. For example, the duple pattern have simple duple and compound duple; the same goes for the rest. “In a simple meter, each beat is basically divided into halves. In compound meters, each beat is divided into thirds.” (Schmidt-Jones)

This can be written as:

Duple simple              1-and-2-and-1-and-2                                                 2/4

Triple simple               1-and-2-and-3-and-1-and-2-and-3                            3/4

Quadruple simple       1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-1-and-2-and-3-and-4       4/4

Duple compound       1-and-a-2-and-1-and-a-2                                           6/8   (pp. 3)

Sometimes, a single piece can contain a number of time signatures. Sometimes, it can contain no definite pattern at all. A music piece that does not follow a specific time signature is called free meter. This is common in Gregorian chants or plainsong, and some cultural music that has distorted beats and pulses, which can be really frustrating for a listener as they can be hardly followed. There are also experimental musicians who does not stick to certain music patterns.


Music meter is one of the basic elements of music that is evidently easy to learn until we can come up with a professionally designed composition. Musicians and listeners to day has more advantage as music has progressed with a lot of new things to discover and experiment with. One only needs to look a few years back to know its historic details, which can be more interesting than today’s versions. Anyone can even educate themselves about it with the help of comprehensive and concise reading materials.


Dudley, L., Faricy, A., Rice, J. G. (1978) Elements of Music. The Humanities. (Sixth Edition, pp.

238-271). US: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

Schmidt-Jones, C. (2007) Meter In Music. Connexions Module, Version 1.7, Retrieved February

15, 2007 from