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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons)

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Next UK ABRSM theory exams
Wednesday 6th November 2019

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Grade 2 Revision Tests


9. Simple Time Signatures (US Version)

Grade Two Music Theory Lesson 9: Simple Time Signatures (US Version)

 ukClick here to view this lesson with UK terminology e.g. "crotchet". 


Quick Time Signatures Review

In Grade One Music Theory we learnt three time signatures: 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4. We learnt that the lower number "4" tells us that we need to count quarter note beats and that the top number tells us how many beats to count.

So, 2/4 means "count 2 quarter notes per bar", 3/4 means "count 3 quarter notes per bar" and 4/4 means "count 4 quarter notes per bar".


New for Grade Two Music Theory

In Grade Two Music Theory, we have some new time signatures to look at.

For Grade 2 ABRSM you need to know 2/2, 3/2, 4/2 and 3/8, and for Grade 2 Trinity the time signatures are 2/2, 3/2 and 3/8 only.

First, let's look at 2/2, 3/2 and 4/2.

The lower number "2" tells us to count half notes. 2/2 means "count two half notes per bar", 3/2 means "count three half notes per bar" and 4/2 means "count four half notes per bar".

Sometimes music in 2/2 is written with an old-fashioned time signature which we call “cut common time”. It is a C with a vertical line through it:

cut common time signature

The cut common time signature goes in the same place as a normal modern signature:

cut common time signature stave

And finally, we need to know 3/8. The lower number number 8 tells us to count eighth notes, so 3/8 means "count three eighth notes per bar".


Types of Question

In the Grade Two Music Theory exam, you might get a question asking you something like this:

Complete this sentence:
The time signature 2/4 means that there are two ........... beats in a bar.

We need to figure out what kind of beats - so we look at the lower number. The lower number is "4", which means "quarter note" beats. So, the correct answer is "The time signature 2/4 means that there are two quarter note beats in a bar.


Writing Time Signatures

In a typed page like this one, it's ok to write out time signatures as two numbers with a slash between them, like so - 3/8. BUT when you write time signature on a stave, in your music theory exam you should make sure you don't write them like this! On a stave, time signatures should be written one number directly above the other and without a slash or line, like so:
Three - Four time signature - music theory



Here are some short tunes using the new time signatures from the grade two music theory syllabus. Click the play buttons to hear them.






For a complete list of time signatures with examples of how the rhythms are written and grouped, please see our time signatures chart.



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