I originally posted this comment about time-signatures under "The Creative Process" thread, but decided to move it over here, and occasionally muse about some specific topic and try to boil some heady topic down in a concise way.
I was inspired by Patterning 2's use of a time-signatures, to type a quick blurb about how Time-Signatures actually work (and how they don't).
Over the years, I've griped about how time-signatures seem to promote a bias that cycles of 4 beats are inherently more valid than other beat groupings. For example, a Whole Note is four beats-- so if it is "whole" it must be more "complete" or more "perfect" than some other number of beats. And this is frequently how it is taught, and certainly what we see and hear in content and in apps.
A more comprehensive way to think about time-signatures is that they simply describe the relationship between a measure and a whole note. The bottom number shows how the whole note is sliced up, and the top number is how many slices are in a measure. In 3/4, the whole note is divided into 4 parts (bottom number), and each measure contains 3 of those parts.
If the fraction described by the time-signature equals one, (e.g. 1/1, 2/2, 4/4, 8/8) then one whole measure contains one whole note. If the fraction is smaller than one, a whole note won't fit into a measure, and if it is greater than one, than more than a whole note will fit into the measure.
Usually, the bottom number gives a hint about "a slice equals a beat" but with 3/8, 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8, we usually think of the dotted quarter as a beat. Because we don't have a way of cutting the whole note into slices of 3/8's, we must accept some quirks in a system that is biased toward binary rhythms.
There are more quirks. For example, it is never clear which note value equals one beat. And, when you transition from one time-signature to another, it might not be clear which note value might be carried over from the previous to the next. Additional notes are often used in notation to clear up the confusion.
The additional challenge with music software, is that unless time-signatures are used in a way that is standard and expected, it can make the app more difficult to use (rather than easier) and can limit options, rather than enhance them.
August 09, 2018 |
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