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Meter in Music Can Be Best Described As - Music Theory

Updated on December 4, 2019
Reginald Thomas profile image

This author has been an educator, conductor, and trombonist for the past 40 years. His experience qualifies him as an expert in this field.

Meter in Music Can Be Best Described As - Music Theory

Meter in Music Can Be Best Described As - Music Theory - Many people have a hard time understanding the word "Meter" in music. In its simplest form it is not very difficult to learn. Equally, in a more complex way the word "Meter" can take a bit more time to grasp if you don’t get the basics first. For all practical purposes, it is the simple mathematics of music.This article will teach us how meter in music can be best described as a simple concept to understand.


Wow, a bonus first? We usually get these later in the article. Not in this one!

Below is a video example for you to listen to while you read the article. This is a fantastic performer you don't want to miss.

Table of Contents

This article will cover the following areas:

  • Measure
  • Meter
  • Beat
  • Bar Line
  • Time Signature
  • Note values
  • Rest Values
  • Duration
  • Duple
  • Triple
  • Quadruple

Metronome Helps The Math in Music

Every musician should own a good metronome.
Every musician should own a good metronome. | Source

The Anatomy of Music Notation

Every musician learns to read a special musical language of music noation.
Every musician learns to read a special musical language of music noation. | Source

Understanding the Terminology

Before we jump into the concept of the word “Meter”, we must equip ourselves with certain terms and their definitions. For the purpose of this article the following terms will be discussed here:

In keeping with the general definition of music, being “Organized Sounds and Silences, the word “Meter” is part of an element of music called “Rhythm”. Contrary to what some people believe, rhythm is not meter. Meter is a system that organizes patterns of strong and weak beats in music. It is somewhat the mathematics of music.

  • The Beat - A way of telling time in a piece of music. This is represented by certain note and or rest values.
  • Measure - This is the area in notation where we organize our measurements of time with notes and rests.
  • Bar Line - A simple vertical line in notation that separates two measures.
  • Duration - This is the length of time we hear a sound (note, tone) in music.
  • Rhythm - One of the seven elements of music.The heart beat of the music.
  • Time Signature - The two numbers at the beginning of the piece of music that help us tell time in music.
  • Duple - A beat pattern in two
  • Triple - A beat pattern in three
  • Quadruple - A beat pattern in four

Measure and Bar Line

Measure - Where the notes and rests are notated.
Measure - Where the notes and rests are notated. | Source
A Bar Line - separates two measures.
A Bar Line - separates two measures. | Source

Time Signatures, Note Values, and Rest Values

What is a Time Signature?

Simply said, a time signature is a music notation device represented by two numbers at the beginning of a piece of music. The top number tells us how many beats are in a measure and the bottom number tells us what kind of note (whole, half, quarter, eighth etc...) gets one beat

The most common time signature also referred to as meter signature to be found in most genres (folk, jazz, rock, country, classical, pop, etc..) is called common time or 4

Note and Rest Values

At the beginning of this article, the definition of music was said to be organized sounds and silences. This being true, we need to have a notation that represents both. In music, notes represent sounds and rests represent silences. The picture below illustrates what these look like.
Below are a few examples of Time Signatures and Note and Rest values.

Notes and Rests represent the sounds and silences in music notation. Time Signatures organize them in equal divisions within a measure.
Notes and Rests represent the sounds and silences in music notation. Time Signatures organize them in equal divisions within a measure.

Meter Characteristics

There are two basic characteristics of meter; duple and triple. From here, we have many variations on this concept which is called “compound meters”.

Duple Time
This can be best described as a two-step. Much like a march with an emphasis or accent on the first beat. One - two, One - two or Left - right Left - right. Does that make sense? Simple, right?

Triple Time
This is best described as a piece of music in three. Have you ever danced a Waltz? Again, the accent being on the first beat. One - two - three, One - two - three.

Quadruple Time
This type of meter will tell us that there are four beats with accents being on beats one and three.

Visual example of duple, triple, and quadruple meter.


The word "Tempo" in music describes the speed of the music. How fast or slow the music is played is mostly controlled by the composer or arranger, but in many cases it is determined by the type of the music. For instance, a Waltz is a dance always written in the meter of 3/4. Because it is a dance, the tempo can not be too fast, nor can it be too slow. Therefore, the tempo of a waltz is usually 100 beats per minute.

Tempo can change within a piece of music from extremely slow to very fast. The extremes are measured by: Larghissimo - very slow - 20 beats per minute and slower to Prestissimo - very fast - more than 200 beats per minute.

Below is an example of a piano composition being performed at a very fast tempo. This is a simply an amazing performance by its composer Hiromi Uehara. Don't miss it!

In Closing

Meter in music can be understood in its simple forms as in this article outlined it as well as the more complex forms to be discussed in a future article. I hope this got you started and understanding how meter in music can be best described as one of the basic concepts in this art form. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

© 2018 Reginald Thomas


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    • Reginald Thomas profile imageAUTHOR

      Reginald Thomas 

      5 months ago from Connecticut

      Thank you for reading! Music is very math-oriented.

    • agvulpes profile image


      6 months ago from Australia

      Thank you for this introduction to the term 'meter' I now have a better understanding of the structure of music.


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