When played in a 4/4 time signature, a bar has the length of a whole note (i.e. a minim). It’s a regular, simple beat pattern widely used in most forms of Western popular music.
The time signature of a piece of music indicates how many beats are in each measure, and what note value is equivalent to a beat. The most common meter in music is 4/4. It’s so popular that it is often referred to as “common time”. This meter is used in a variety of genres, however most frequently in rock, blues, country, funk, and pop music.
4/4 time is most often used in Western genres of music and is either shown in written music as two 4’s at the beginning of the staff, or by the letter “C” which stands for “common time”.
But what exactly is a 4/4 time signature?
Time signatures consist of two numbers which are written like a fraction with a division line between the two numbers. The top number of the signature is the numerator and tells you how many beats to count. This could technically be any number, but is most often a number between 2 and 12 .
The bottom number of the signature is the denominator and it tells you what kind of note to count relative to the beat. For example, if the bottom number is a 4, it means that you will be counting in quarter notes.
So, what does 4/4 mean in music? In the 4/4 time signature, the numbers tell you that each measure will contain four quarter note beats. So each time you tap the beat, you’re tapping the equivalent of one-quarter note.
The difference between the time signature and the meter
In music theory, the terms "time signature" and "meter" are frequently used interchangeably, however, both refer to different aspects of the measure. The time signature refers specifically to the number and types of notes used in the music, whilst the meter refers to how those notes are grouped together in order to create the rhythm of the melody in a composition.
What are some examples of 4/4 music?
Throughout modern music, the 4/4 time signature has been a staple for many of the world’s biggest musicians and artists, due to its compatibility with many dance routines and its compositional ease. Some tracks that are written in the 4/4 time include:
- Whiskey In The Jar (Thin Lizzy)
- Photograph (Ed Sheeran)
- Who Wants To Live Forever (Queen)
- I'm A Believer (The Monkees)
- You Can't Always Get What You Want (The Rolling Stones)
- These Boots Are Made For Walkin' (Nancy Sinatra)
- Time Is Running Out (Muse)
- The Sound Of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel)
Important advice on the 4/4 beat
You may notice that some of these tracks sound completely different both musically and rhythmically, which may lead one to believe that these tracks couldn’t possibly be in the same time signature. Despite this, it’s important to remember that a 4/4 time signature doesn’t mean that you will have only 4 quarter notes to each measure.
The reality is that 4/4 music will contain 4 beats in each measure, and these beats could contain half, quarter, eighth notes or rests, just so long as the note and rest values combine to the value of the top number of the time signature, which in this case, would be 4.
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