Forum - Banjo Ben Clark

Discuss the lesson: Intro to Music Theory Part 2- Time Signatures

I hope you have the time to watch my signature lesson on…time signatures.

I don’t understand this 3/4 stuff. If there are three beats in a measure how can each note be a quarter note?

I’ve never thought about it like that. I see where you’re coming from, though. Like they should be called third notes, right? :smile:

It’s a waltz beat, so I always think about a big ballroom full of aristocrats dancing in circles. The beat is 1 2 3, 1 2 3. It’s 3 beats per measure. I guess they just still call them quarter notes.

Not sure if that helps.

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I could see where that could be confusing… seems like it should be a “third” note, eh? However it sounds like you understand it better than you think you do. In 3/4 there are indeed three beats a measure and a quarter note is equal to one beat. I think this is like the source of the confusion: the name “quarter” is not for a quarter of a measure, but a quarter of a whole note. The time sig is simply saying that you can put 3 quarter notes in each measure.

Since the most common sig is 4/4, it is easy to think of a “quarter” note representing 1/4 of a measure. That just happens to be true with 4/4.

I hope that helps. If not, let us know and we will take another swing.


That’s a great question. The note has to retain a name, and I think since 4/4 is the most common time signature in western music, it’s universally called the quarter note regardless of time signature. I kind of think of measures like fluctuating markets…the dollar may be worth more or less depending on the day, but we still call it a dollar regardless.

To be clear, both the 3 and the 4 in 3/4 have a meaning. The 3 on top means that a measure is filled with 3 beats. The 4 on bottom tells you what kind of note gets that one beat (1/4 meaning quarter).

But like I said, great question :slight_smile:

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I think three of us were simultaneously replying :smile:


Many moons ago. I was taught at primary school the measure of time was counted in beats. The number of beats in a barre. The top number tells you how many the bottom number the duration. 6/8 Mean’s six eighth notes.

Mr G’s Lessons on Theory explains all this.

When I think of a waltz beat, to me, it seems the 1 has a slightly longer time than the 2 and 3. Is that true or is it just because we emphasize the 1?

No, all three beats technically should be the same length but the first is usually accented which creates that illusion. Now some people might not play it equally but that is not technically proper imho


Just a quick suggestion. I think it might be helpful to us beginners if the background music was muted when the instructor is verbally demonstrating time signatures (aka. "1,2,3,1,2,3). It would help us “hear” the pattern in our heads a bit better. :wink:

Again, just a suggestion.


Welcome to the forum Wesley :grinning:

I watched the time signature video, but am a bit confused as to where the beat goes. For example, if the time signature is 3/4, I understand that to mean there are three beats per measure and each beat is a quarter note. (Hope I’m right!).
So we have a waltz 1 2 3 12 3.
But sometimes the music sounds like 1 2 3 1 23 with the emphasis on the second note.
How can I tell which beat gets the emphasis? Or am I getting ahead of myself?

Yep, that’s right!

That’s up to the individual players and writers, but most every waltz tends to emphasize beat 1.

Just to get technical (Sorry it’s a tad off-topic, but just wanted to chime in on the “quarter note”): The name is not actually related to the number of beats in the measure (it’s not a “quarter of a 4/4 measure”), it’s because it’s a “quarter of a whole note”. All those american names of note lengths are in relationship to the “whole note”. (1/8th note is 1/8th of whole note, half note is 1/2 of whole note, etc).

Got it. Thanks. One more question: After I complete one of the lesson worksheets, how can I tell if I got the answers right?

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You can send it to me and I’ll grade it :

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