Many people are confused about what simple meter vs. compound meter is. To make matters worse we also have meter that can be duple, triple and quadruple. And what time signatures are in simple time? Don’t worry- here is help!
Let’s start from the beginning.
If you listen to a piece of music, you will notice the beat. This is what you want to move or stamp your foot to. The beat has some beats that are stronger than the others.
Just by emphasizing some beats a tad bit more than the others, a grouping of the beats occur. This is called Musical Meter.
Now, if we continue to listen, tapping along with the music, we may notice that the beat can have other, shorter beats on “top” of it.
There are many possibilities, but two subdivisions that have the most impact are when they are subdivided in 2’s and 3’s. This is called Simple meter (subdivided in 2’s) and Compound meter (subdivided in 3’s).
Different time signatures are then classified as being either Simple Time Signatures and Compound Time Signatures.
Simple time signatures are easy to learn. They are the time signatures where the top number is 2, 3 or 4.
The bottom number represents what note value is counted as 1 beat.
A time signature could in theory have any note value number here; 2 (=half note), 4 (=quarter note), 8 (=eighth note), 16 (=sixteenth note) etc. But here we will focus on the most common time signatures.
The most common simple time signatures are:
The top number of the time signature tells us the number of main beats in each group/measure. Time signatures with 2 main beats per group are called duple, with 3; triple, and with 4; quadruple. Easy-just look at the top number when you have simple time signatures.
So, for example a time signature of 4/4 is also called Simple Quadruple Time. 2/2 is called Simple Duple Time, and 3/8 is called Simple Triple Time.
So, what about the bottom number?
When listening to music, it is impossible to tell what the “bottom” number in the time signature is. But you can easily learn to figure out if it is in simple time (main beat can be subdivided in 2) and if it is duple, triple or quadruple meter.
So you could listen to a piece and say (very snazzy!):”This piece is in simple quadruple time, you guys!” How cool is that!