I. Fundamentals

# 2.1 Introduction

Although rhythm and meter are inextricably linked—two closely-related facets of how music unfolds over time—the words are used to describe different things. Both are related to the beat—a steady, underlying pulse found in the majority of tonal Western art music. Rhythm refers to the variety of note and rest durations that appear in the context of the beat. Meter, on the other hand, refers to how the beats themselves are organized. Chapter 1 describes three different ways that beats can be grouped. Meters that sort the beat into groups of twos (alternating strong and weak beats) are known as duple meters. Meters that sort the beat into groups of three or four are referred to respectively as triple and quadruple meters.

But describing a type of meter with regards to how it groups the beats provides only one part of the equation. We will now discuss the varying ways in which the beat can be divided. The following chapters will go into greater depth with meters that regularly divide the beat into groups of two (Chapter 3) and groups of three (Chapter 4).

# 2.2 Beat division

Listen to the following excerpt. As you listen, tap along with your foot to find the beat. You should be able to hear two beats per measure—in other words, this excerpt is in a duple meter:

Were you able to hear that this excerpt is in a duple meter? The basic, underlying pulse has a duration equal to that of a quarter note. These quarter-note beats are organized into groups of two by the measure lines. Notice how the notation emphasizes the duple meter: shorter durations (eighth notes and sixteenth notes) are grouped in a way that does not obscure the duple meter. We will return to this aspect of the notation momentarily.

As you may have noticed, the basic beat is not the only regular pulse. Listen to Example 2–1 again. This time, as you are tapping your foot to the beat tap your hand twice per beat. This faster pulse—twice as fast, in this case—is referred to as the beat division. The following example clarifies:

In this case, each quarter-note beat can be divided into two eighth notes. In other words, as your foot is tapping quarter notes along with the music, your hand should be tapping eighth notes. Meters like this, in which the beat is regularly divided into twos, are referred to as simple meters.

Activity 2-1

Activity 2–1

### Question

What would be the note value of the beat division for a simple meter in which the beat was equal to a half note?

#### Hint

Remember, the beat division for a simple meter is equal to half the duration of the beat itself.

quarter note

Now listen to the following excerpt. Again, you’ll find that the meter has two beats per measure.

In this case, however, if you try tapping the beat division with your hand while tapping the beat with your foot, you will find it is difficult to divide the beat in two. Tapping your hand three times for every foot tap is much more natural. In this meter, the beat is divided into three notes. The following example clarifies:

In this case, the beat is divided into threes. Each beat—the duration of which is equal to a dotted quarter note—is divided into three eighth notes. Meters such as this—in which the beat is divided into threes—are referred to as compound meters.

These two terms, simple and compound, indicate the manner in which the basic pulse is divided. They are usually used in conjunction with duple, triple, and quadruple to give a more or less complete description of any given meter. Both of the examples above have two beats per measure. In other words, they are both duple meters. They differ, however, in how those beats are divided. Example 2–1 divides each beat into two equal parts and is therefore referred to as being in a simple duple meter. Example 2–3, on the other hand, divides each beat into three equal parts and is therefore referred to as being in a compound duple meter.

The following six examples present a variety of meters. See if you can figure out what type of meter is used in each excerpt before reading on. (If you find you are having difficulty, each example also includes an extra audio clip with an added click track.)

Example 2–5 is written in a compound duple meter.

Example 2–6 is written in a simple duple meter.

Example 2–7 is written in a simple duple meter.

Example 2–8 is written in a simple quadruple meter.

Example 2–9 is written in a simple triple meter.

Example 2–10 is written in a compound triple meter.

Activity 2-2

Activity 2–2

Listen to each of the following excerpts and determine if it is in a simple or a compound meter.

### Question

Is the following piece in a simple meter or a compound meter?

#### Hint

Look for a division of the beat into shorter note values. Is the beat divided into two notes or three?

simple

### Question

Is the following piece in a simple meter or a compound meter?

#### Hint

Look for a division of the beat into shorter note values. Is the beat divided into two notes or three?

compound

### Question

Is the following piece in a simple meter or a compound meter?

#### Hint

Look for a division of the beat into shorter note values. Is the beat divided into two notes or three?

compound

### Question

Is the following piece in a simple meter or a compound meter?

#### Hint

Look for a division of the beat into shorter note values. Is the beat divided into two notes or three?

simple

Note: You may have noticed that some of the excerpts above begin with an incomplete measure. Example 2–1 begins with an eighth note before the first measure line and Example 2–3 begins with a quarter note and an eighth note. As mentioned in Chapter 1, an incomplete measure at the start of a piece of music is referred to as an anacrusis or pickup measure. Even though the music begins on a weak beat (or off beat) with regards to the meter, we have no trouble identifying the first downbeat.

The following example provides another example of an anacrusis. (Note that the first full measure is labeled as m. 1.)

Anacruses can be used with any type of meter, simple or compound. We will return to this topic once more in Chapter 3.

# 2.3 Summary

Meter refers to the organization of basic underlying pulses in music. In tonal Western art music, we define a particular meter based on two parameters: how the beats themselves are grouped and how they are regularly divided. Beats are generally organized into groups of two, three, or four beats per measure. We refer to these as duple, triple, and quadruple meters respectively. Beats are generally divided into sets of two or three notes. Meters in which the beat is regularly divided into two notes are referred to as simple meters. Those that divide the beat into three notes are referred to as compound meters. Simple and compound meters are discussed in greater depth in Chapter 3 and Chapter 4, respectively.