Beat (music)

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Relationship between basic beat, beat, meter and rhythm

The clock (from latin TACTUS , touch ',' burst ') is in the music a temporal grouping of the notes of a piece of music (for. Example, the first bar of the piece , the last bar ). A piece is thus structured by the bars. If all or most of the bars of a piece or section have the same grouping or time signature , then this is also referred to as the measure of the piece or section ("this piece is in three-quarter time").

The measure (the time signature) of a piece usually describes a pattern of the same basic beats and beats , which creates the basic temporal structure of the piece. The rhythms of the piece are created through the changing note values , which coincide with the beats of a measure or can deviate from them . The beat is felt in music with European characteristics through regular accentuation of the basic beat, which is also known as the pulse .

Time signature

The time signature is defined according to how many pulse or basic beats of a note value belong together. A 44 time therefore contains four basic beats or beats, each worth a quarter note. The upper number of the time signature means the number of beats in the measure, the lower number means the note value of each of these beats.

In addition, a time signature is usually assigned a metrical structure, i.e. an order of stress (hence the name accent graduation time; sometimes the words measure and meter are therefore used interchangeably). In the case of the 44 cycle, for example:

difficult - easy - semi-difficult - easy

or even just

difficult - easy - difficult - easy

On the other hand, certain styles of music, such as swing, use a backbeat emphasis, so:

easy - difficult - easy - difficult

Daniel Gottlob Türk described this in 1789 as "the correct division of a certain number of notes that should be played in a certain time" and "the ratio according to which a number of notes in music is divided in a certain period of time".

One differentiates:

  • Simple clock types (basic clock types) - the counter is a 2 or 3, in rare cases also a 1 (examples: 22 , 24 or 34 , 38 ). The time signature is "simple" because there is only one accented beat. There are no secondary accents in such time signatures:
emphasized - unstressed = "two-stroke"
emphasized - unstressed - unstressed = "three beat"
Simple time signatures correspond to the two- or three-syllable metrics of poetry, where every second or every third syllable is emphasized.
  • Compound time signatures - the measures are summaries of groups of two and / or groups of three, i.e. H. the counter can be broken down into an addition of twos and threes (examples: 44 , 64 , 84 , 48 , 68 , 88 , 98 , but also 54 , 78 , 1216 ). Due to the possible ambiguities in the subdivision, the stress distribution ( metric ) is sometimes not readable from the time signature (e.g. 58 = 28 + 38 or 38 + 28 ).

A further distinction is made:

  • Even time signatures - consisting of one or two groups of 2 (examples: 22 , 24 , 44 )
  • Odd time signatures - consisting of groups of 3, possibly also groups of 2 (examples: 38 , 34 , 64 , 58 , 54 , 68 , 78 )

Three-part time signatures are also called triple time . Of the odd time signatures, only the three-part time signatures were used regularly in classical music (e.g. 31 , 32 , 34 , 38 or 98 ).

Choosing the right time signature

The choice of a time signature is an important factor in the composition process, especially as it can provide information not only about the basic time measure, but also about the playing style, intonation or tempo. Much like choosing the key signature of a piece, the choice of time signature can depend on many factors; In addition to personal preferences, the type of music, genre and genre also provide decisive design templates.

Today the time signature 44 dominates in pop, rock and jazz. Other common time signatures are 24 , 34 , 64 , and 68 .

Predefined time signatures apply to many genres. Polka, marches and ragtime are usually in 24 ; Waltzes, Scherzi, minuets in 34 ; Mazurks, barcaroles, jigs, tarantellas in 68 ; Madrigals, motets, cantatas of the Renaissance in 42 or 32 . Classical music that is generally rather quickly conceived, on the other hand, is often written in 22 (also 'alla breve' time). Later, irregular time signatures were added, such as 54 or 78 , which can sometimes be found in jazz or progressive rock .

Compositions of serial music (from the second half of the 20th century) often used exotic time signatures. Both can be necessary from a compositional point of view (see Polymetrics and Polyrhythmics ). Sometimes the limits of what is practically feasible are reached here.

The denominator of the time signature can provide information about the desired tempo of a composition. For example, an 8 sometimes indicates a faster measure of time (as in Liszt's Mephistowaltzer No. 1 or in Balakirev's Islamey , both in 38 ). 64 indicates a rather slow tempo, while 68 means a faster, dance- like tempo . A 2 in the denominator can indicate a rather slow measure of time (as in Barber's Adagio for Strings , which is in 42 ). However, this rule does not always apply, especially not for pieces with a 2 in the denominator that originate from the Renaissance or are notated as 22 or alla breve .


A prelude is the beginning of a musical phrase with one or more, mostly unstressed notes before the beginning of the first - usually stressed - beat. In contrast, in jazz, the prelude is often more emphasized than the main bar. In Classical times, Jérôme-Joseph de Momigny (1762–1842) already considered the prelude to be a preferred element of phrasing by emphasizing it. The prelude is an incomplete measure, which means that the piece of music does not have the necessary basic beats. The prelude, together with the final bar, forms a complete full bar .

In songs, the prelude serves to harmonize the linguistic emphasis and the musical beat. Countless songs begin with a prelude; in the following examples the first emphasis is underlined:

  • W a change is enjoyable (Germany)
  • Per a stous, pera kambous (Greece, Πέρα στους πέρα ​​κάμπους: prose pitch on the first syllable)
  • Al a s, my love, you do me wrong (England)
  • Pet i t papa noël (France)

In traditional European music, full-time pieces end with full-time; If necessary, pauses are added before the first or after the last grade. An upbeat piece usually shortens the last measure by the length of the upbeat.


Single and double barlines

In the musical notation , the individual bars are separated by vertical bar lines . Until the end of the 16th century, music was usually notated without bar lines (see also mensural notation ).

The bars of a piece of music are often numbered consecutively in the score, either at the beginning of each system or after a fixed number of bars (usually ten or five).

Notation of 34 time

The time signature is written in the form of a fraction with numerator and denominator, but without a fraction line (see picture below for a 34 time signature ) and is the time signature at the beginning of a piece of music according to key and accidentals . The denominator determines which note value corresponds to a counting time . The counter shows the number of beats per measure. Further, from the older mensural the spellings 4/4 timefor the 4 / 4 -Stroke and alla brevefor the 2 / 2 -Stroke ( alla breve ) are common. At that time the three-stage or "perfect" measure, which stood as a symbol for the trinitarian (triune) perfection, was marked with a circle, while the two-stage (imperfect or "imperfect") measure was marked with a semicircle.

When the time signature changes, the new time signature is written into the staff; a double line is often placed in front of it for additional clarification . If different time signatures used in alternating or random order, so it is common to a row this time signatures once at the beginning of the grading system to record and display not specifically the time signature of the piece. If the time signature changes very frequently, the time signature at the beginning of the system can be omitted.


When conducting , the beat is indicated by percussion figures .

Historical quotes:

"The beat is nothing other than a movement / so happens with the hand or a stick."

- Wolfgang Hase : Thorough introduction to the noble art of music or singing. Goslar 1657

"What is the tact? According to the arithmetic department, it is a certain equality / with the hand down / and then back up or to serve. "

- Daniel Speer : Fundamentally correct, short, easy and necessary, now well-increased teaching of musical art. Ulm 1687

"The bar determines the time in which different notes must be played ... The bar is indicated by lifting and knocking down the hand ..."

- Leopold Mozart : Attempt at a thorough violin school. Augsburg 1756

See also


Web links

Commons : Clock  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Daniel Gottlob Türk: Piano School ... Leipzig and Halle 1789, p. 89
  2. Time signatures .
  3. Georg Schünemann : History of Conducting. Breitkopf & Härtel, Leipzig 1913, p. 70 f.
  4. Heinrich Bellermann: The mensural notes and time signs of the XV. and XVI. Century . 2nd Edition. Georg Reimer, Berlin 1906, OCLC 6825594 , p. 4th f . ( Text archive - Internet Archive [accessed January 13, 2018]).