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Home Music Study Vocal Music Text Book Section 6 - Time Signature

Section 6 - Time Signature

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At the beginning of every musical piece, immediately after the CLEF SIGN, there is either the letter  “C”   or  a  fraction.    This is called the Time Signature.







Duration of sound is indicated by symbols in music..  The duration varies according to the length of syllables of the lyric...    The following symbols are the ones, that are common.    We need to know the following symbols and their names:



Time Signature refers to a rhythmic unit.   Every  unit starts with a heavy accent. It is preceded by a bar line.   Every unit ends with a bar line.   The music ends with a double bar line or a thin and thick bar line as in previous examples.   When a certain section is to be repeated,  one places  a “colon”  [  :  ]  at the starting and ending point.

rhythms having only one accent: 

f  2/2  or  C with a slash called Cut time,  has 2 minims to a bar, and the first is accented.

2/4  and  3/4  (see above) too have  one accent, at the beginning of the bar.

rhythms having two accents,


4/4  or  C - called Common Time.   It is made of 4 crotchets or 4 ‘beats’ of which the 1st is heavily accented  and the third is lightly accented.   The second and fourth beats are not accented.

6/8  which has 6 quavers in a bar (in groups of 3 quavers).   The first one is heavily accented (1st quaver of the first group), and the 4th is lightly accented (1st quaver of the 2nd group).   The rest are not accented.

understanding accents

To understand accents, we should look at the accents in a spoken language.

In the following words, the accented syllables are in italics

·         Comfort.    Understand.    Accented.  Etc.

In the music lyric, the accents should be so arranged,  as to coincide with the musical accents.

4/4 or common time

The 4/4 Rhythm with 2 accents: 1st beat heavy, 3rd beat light.  Heavy   Light


Mary had  a little lamb.     We give a strong stress at ”Ma  of  Mary  and less stress at  “had”  both of which are accented.    Lit  of “little”  is the next heavily accented  syllable    and “lamb” is light.   The first unit consists of 4 syllables: “Ma ry had a”, and the second unit consists of 3 syllables.   “Lit tle lamb”.   By lengthening the sound of “lamb” to a minim, we get 4 ‘beats’.  All  syllables except the last are given the duration of a crotchet.  Hence,  the music has  4/4


2/4 rhythm.

Old MacDonald  had  a  farm  there is only one type of accent, - heavy, coming on alternate syllables.   Hence  this is 2/4 rhythm.


cut time rhythm

Heav’n  and   earth  are  full  of your glo  ry.   This is to be written in 2/2 rhythm, being a solemn theme and the gait is majestic.   The accents  come on alternate syllables.   Note “Full  of your”   The first word is accented.   The following two syllables are said quickly, as if to last the length of one syllable.  Hence,  two sounds will take the time of one minim,  in other words, each will be as long as a crotchet.


waltz rhythm or  three fourth rhythm.

My  Bon nie lies o ver the o cean.   The strong accent is followed by two syllables of equal length.   The group is made of 3 syllables, of which the first is strongly accented.   This rhythm is written in 3/4.    “Cean” of ocean spills over into the next bar, having 4 beats, hence it is ‘tied” with a curved line.


In this section we shall introduce two new rhythms: Cut Time and the Six Eight Time.   The former is made up of 2 minims in a bar, and the latter is made up of 6 quavers in a bar.   In both cases the first note is heavily accented.   In the case of the six eighth time, the 4th quaver is lightly accented.


the six eighth rhythm


The Semiquaver (half quaver).

In traditional counting method you say as follows: 1 2 & 3, 1,2,3  - Each quaver takes one number: A dotted quaver therefore takes one and a half, 1,2 and the other half, which is called “semiquaver”  is represented by the “and”.  While a quaver has one flag, the semiquaver has two.   When quavers are tied, you place one top bar line for quavers, but for semiquavers you place two.  That is why in the above example, the semiquaver has an additional line.  A dotted crotchet  takes three numbers.  A full crotchet which is made up of two quavers takes two numbers: 1,2 or whichever numbers depending on the place where the note is placed.   A dotted minim is 6 quavers.


Occasionally in music  we find  three quavers for the time of one crotchet.  These have a curved line above them, with number "3" in the center.   In the same way, we can have a triplet of crotchets:   Three crotchets take the time of one minim, and also have a top bracket broken by a number "3".


One number is counted for each minim.   For the semibreve 2 numbers are counted.   The first beat (minim) in each bar is accented.



When  music shifts to a new scale – generally going to the scale of the Dominant or Subdominant, one of the notes is changed.

The singers generally tend to associate the sounds with their names, hence it has been found that by giving a new name to the modified sound, this can be achieved.

A raised Fa is called Fi.   In the same way, a lowered Si, is called Sa.   These name changes are applied by the singers only, and as for the keyboard players they have to name the key-name with the modifier sharp or flat.

Thus Do, Re, Fa,  Sol and La  can be raised and we shall name them: Di, Ri, Fi,  Sil, and Li.    While lowering the following sounds, Si, La, Sol, Mi and Re, we will name them: Sa, Lu, Sal, Ma and Ra.

Raising Mi  is same as Fa.   Raising Si is same as Do. Lowering Do, is same as Si.  Lowering Fa is same as Mi.


 Note that when a modified note is followed by an unmodified one of the same note  is to be used within the same bar, a natural symbol as to be placed before it.  If it is used in the next bar, it is understood, that it is reverted to the unmodified state.  If it is to be modified, the modifier is to be placed before it again.

In a sharp or flat scale, when a note is lowered or raised, a natural symbol is used (see p. 31). If the name is Mi, (F# in D scale,) F natural is used, and the sound is lowered, and you call it Ma. F# in G scale  Si, would be called  Sa.   In a flat scale, e.g. Bb in F scale would be considered as raised if a natural symbol is placed before it, and it would be called Fi.   In a 2 flat scale  Eb is fa, and when it is made natural it would be Fi.

What a sharp does is to raise the sound.  A Natural lowers it.  In case of a flat the sound a lowered, and the natural raises it.


The above names are recommended for singers, as by associating a particular sound with a particular name, one gets the correct pitch while singing the score, with the note names.

Music Exercises:  Organ Solo.  Choral Exercises.  Hymns





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