# Musicianship Resources

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# Meter and time signatures

Meter involves the way multiple pulse layers work together to organize music in time. Standard meters in Western music can be classified into simple meters and compound meters, as well as duple, triple, and quadruple meters.

Duple, triple, and quadruple classifications result from the relationship between the counting pulse (Karpinski's secondary pulse) and the pulses that are slower than the counting pulse (Karpinski's primary pulse). In other words, it is a question of grouping: how many beats (secondary pulse) occur in each bar (primary pulse). If counting-pulse beats group into twos, we have duple meter; groups of three, triple meter; groups of four, quadruple meter. Conducting patterns are determined based on these classifications.

Simple and compound classifications result from the relationship between the counting pulse and the pulses that are faster than the counting pulse. In other words, it is a question of division: does each beat divide into two equal parts, or three equal parts. Meters that divide the beat into two equal parts are simple meters; meters that divide the beat into three equal parts are compound meters.

Thus, there are six types of standard meter in Western music:

• simple duple (beats group into two, divide into two)
• simple triple (beats group into three, divide into two)
• simple quadruple (beats group into four, divide into two)
• compound duple (beats group into two, divide into three)
• compound triple (beats group into three, divide into three)
• compound quadruple (beats group into four, divide into three)

In a time signature, the top number (and the top number only!) describes the type of meter. Following are the top numbers that always correspond to each type of meter:

• simple duple: 2
• simple triple: 3