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  • Writer's pictureNaomi Leila🌸

Time Signatures Part 2

In part 1 I discussed what the top number in a time signature referred to and how you could identify that when listening to music. In this blog I will explain what the bottom number refers to and why.


The bottom number in a time signature refers to the type of beat that is felt the most. To break this down properly let's start with simple time signatures. Simple time signatures are time signatures where you can subdivide the notes equally by two. The time signature where you can have the most subdivisions of 2 is 3/1.

3/1 means that there are 3 semibreve notes per bar. It's simply counted 1,2,3 but each beat can be subdivided many times over. This type of time signature is very rarely used, but when it's used it's used for very slow pieces.

3/2 refers to 3 minim beats per bar (the 2 describes the minim) and each beat can also be subdivided by two which makes this also a simple time signature.

In 3/4 the 4 refers to crotchet beats, so when describing 3/4 we would say there are 3 crotchet beats per bar. The feeling that this would have is: 1,2,3

But also can be commonly felt as 1 and 2 and 3 and - hence showing it can be subdivided by 2

Whereas in 3/8, the 8 refers to quaver beats and we would say there are 3 quaver beats per bar. 3/8 is often used more as opposed to 3/4 when the music is faster because it has a quicker feeling to it. Also often felt: 1,2,3

The bottom number can carry on being halved, so you can get time signatures like 12/16, 7/32 & 5/64 etc. but this is incredibly rare.


Compound time signatures are used when each beat can be equally subdivided by 3.

For instance the time signature 9/8 is a compound time signature. Technically we describe this as 9 quaver beats per bar. But the feeling this time signature has it that of 3 dotted crotchets, each of which can be equally subdivided by 3. We also group the quaver notes in 9/8 in 3 and would count it 1 an-d, 2 an-d, 3 an-d.


(sometimes called odd or complex)

Irregular time signatures occur when in each bar it is possible to make sets of three and two subdivisions. For instance in 5/8. You could have one set of 3 and one set of two.

This can also happen in 7/8, see example below.


The final thing to be aware of when trying to figure out music is that sometimes the piece or phrase can start on the upbeat.

Chart of Simple, Compound & Irregular Time Signatures

I hope this helped you understand time signatures better

Much Love

Naomi Leila Xx

P.s. If you liked this blog please press the heart button and become a member to never miss a post.

P.p.s Press on the link for a table of music in different time signatures. I've designed this as a chart and as a quiz so you can choose to either listen to more examples, or test your musical ability at differentiating time signatures. I will update this regularly with more examples that I find.

Time_signatures (1)
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