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Tuplet Note

Time Signatures Explained

A proper understanding of time signatures is essential for using a metronome accurately. Time signatures are located at the start of a musical piece, following the clef and key signature. They comprise two numerical values:

  • The upper number denotes the quantity of beats in a bar.
  • The lower number indicates the note value that represents a single beat. For instance, "2" corresponds to a minim, "4" signifies a crotchet note, "8" represents a quaver, and so forth.
It's important to note that this explanation is specifically for simple time signatures. Time signatures can be categorized into two primary types: simple and compound.

Simple time signatures, including 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4, often have beats that are typically divided into two equal parts, often represented by crotchets. This division makes it relatively straightforward for musicians to follow a regular and straightforward rhythm.

Compound time signatures, on the other hand, are characterized by a division of each beat into three equal parts, often represented by quavers. However, it's important to note that compound time signatures can also include unequal divisions in some cases, depending on the specific time signature used.

Here are several common examples of time signatures:

TimeBeats per Bar
1/41 crotchet per bar
2/42 crotchets per bar
3/43 crotchets per bar
4/44 crotchets per bar
5/45 crotchets per bar
6/46 crotchets or 2 dotted minims
7/47 crotchets per bar
5/85 quavers (pairs of 2 - 3)
6/86 quavers (pairs of 3 - 3)
7/87 quavers (pairs of 2 - 2 - 3)
9/89 quavers (pairs of 3 - 3 - 3)
12/812 quavers (pairs of 3 - 3 - 3 - 3)

What is Swing Percentage?

Swing percentage is an expression of the rhythmic relationship between two quavers in a beat.

A common example would be 66%, the so-called "triplet swing". The first quaver takes up two-thirds (66%) of the crotchet beat's time, so it's basically a crotchet followed by a quaver. A 75% swing percentage would be a dotted crotchet followed by a quaver.

We could say that the first quaver takes up as much as the swing percentage's time from the crotchet beat, and the second quaver takes the rest. Going by this logic, we could create a "reverse swing" by going below 50%, and 50% would be just straight quavers, no swing at all so to speak.

Explanation video

Some commonly used swing percentages are:

  • 57% - Septuplet Swing
  • 60% - Quintuplet Swing
  • 66% - Triplet Swing