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Timing Notation

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by FLEABITE, May 8, 2001.



    Apr 13, 2001
    Kent, England.
    Right, I want to ask this without confusing people...erm...
    I know (if you are playing in 4:4 timing) there are 4 beats in every bar...
    I know... a half note recieves 2 beats
    ...a 1/4 note 1 beat
    ... an 1/8 note half a beat and so on....

    If you are playing 1/8 notes at 60bpm, are you playing 1/8 notes at 60bpm or 1/4 notes at 120bpm?

    Similarly, if you play 16ths at 110bpm are you actually playing 8ths at 220bpm or even 1/32 notes at 55bpm?

    I know in each case both are correct but how do you decide which is correct. When I see music notation, the timing makes sense but If I try to work it out for myself I always end up asking this question.
    If u can understand what I am saying, I would be gratful if you could set me straight on this. Thanks. :)
  2. If i understand what you're saying correctly..

    the bpm of a song is always the note value that gets a beat.. ala in 4/4, it would be a quarter note, in 6/8, the eigth.. so if a song is written in 100bpm in 4/4 time... straight quarters would be 100bpm, straight eights would seem to be 200, and etc.
  3. lump


    Jan 17, 2000
    St. Neots, UK
    My recruiter said there'd be no math...;)

    I think you're thinking too hard. If a tempo is given on a piece of music, usually it's for whatever note value gets the beat. For example, in 4/4 (or 2/4, 3/4, 5/4, etc.) a quarter note gets one beat, so the tempo marking would say (quarter note = 120). Sometimes you might see (quarter note = ca. 120), with the ca. being an abbreviation for circa, which is latin for "approximately." In 2/2, the tempo marking is usually for a half note (a half note gets one beat). In 6/8 time (or 9/8 or 12/8), the tempo marking is usually for a dotted quarter note instead of an eighth note, since 6/8 is usually counted in two (9/8 in three, 12/8 in four). If you're not sure what dotted notes are, we can go into that later.

    So, if you have a (quarter note = 120) piece, if you set your metronome on 120, that's the tempo for quarter notes. If you want to SUBDIVIDE that into eighth notes, you can set it to 240, but that's about as fast as most metronomes go (and about as fast as your brain can handle anyway).

    And I think you might have the note values backwards, for example, in 4/4, at 120 bpm:

    -A whole note is worth 4 quarter notes, so would be counted slowest (30 bpm).
    -A half note, worth 2 quarter notes, would be counted twice as fast a whole note, but half as fast as a quarter note (60 bpm).
    -A quarter note, worth ONE beat, would be counted at 120 bpm.
    -An eighth note, worth 1/2 of a quarter not (eight per measure instead of four), would be counted twice as FAST as a quarter note (240 bpm).
    -A sixteenth note would be counted twice as fast again, at 480 bpm. At 120 bpm, a sixteenth note is about the smallest note value you're going to see (and you'll be ghosting half of 'em anyway), but at slower tempos you can see up to 64th notes.

    If you're looking at something that is just marked (120) without any note value assigned to it, assume it's for whatever note value gets the beat (probably a quarter note).

    Does that help?
  4. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...wow! :D
    (I'd a bet the farm no one coulda worked the word "circa" into a post here @TB!).

    I like when certain pieces have multiple timelines goin' on-
    To thoroughly confuse you & me...
    For example, you may hear/see a bassline written in 4/4 @100bpm, while the horn line(or drum beat)is in 5/4 @125bpm. This allows both the 4-bar & the 5-bar to encompass the exact same amount of time(no "crossing the barline"...both bars hit on the same "1").

    For Ss & Gs, here's the math-
    4/4 vs. 5/4...multiply the 4/4 bpm by 1.25
    4/4 = 100 bpm; 5/4 = 125 bpm

    4/4 vs. 6/4...multiply the 4/4 bpm by 1.50
    4/4 = 100 bpm; 6/4 = 150 bpm.

    4/4 vs. 7/4...multiply the 4/4 bpm by 1.75
    4/4 = 100 bpm; 7/4 = 175 bpm.


    So, if you have a drum machine, try programming a 5/4 beat @125 & attempt to play one of your bass figures "against" it...remember BOTH "1s" occur at the same instance, both bars encompass the same/exact amount of "time".
    Have some fun...


    Apr 13, 2001
    Kent, England.

    Thanks, now I'm more confused ;)
  6. Ok, dont try to make it more complex than it is.
    If the tune you play , lets say is 4/4 time at 60 beats per miniute...
    The top 4 is 4 beats to the measure
    bottom 4 is 1/4 note gets the beat. so you will have 4 beats (1-2-3-4) or tap your foot 4 x per measure. If you listen to most rock tunes, they are in 4/4, bass drum hits on 1&3, snare on 2&4. this is a basic simple rock style beat.
    The 60 beats per minute would be 1 beat per second played on every 1/4note. If in the tune a measure is all 1/8 notes then you would play 8 notes in that measure of 4/4, or one every 1/2 second apart,evenly spaced. Counting would be 1&2&3&4&, with your foot taping out the beat on 1-2-3-4.
    1/16 notes would be 2X as fast again, and counted 1d&d2d&d3d&d4d&d, all spaced evenly apart and your foot taping out the beat on 1-2-3-4.
    The above was what is called even time.
    For odd time we have much the same, except you drop the last beat of the 4/4 time, (you can think of it that way)
    So in 3/4 time at 60 beats, your foot taps out 3 beats per measure, giving the 1/4 note the beat, and you will tap your foot once every second again, but you will count 1-2-3-1-2-3-1-2-3(3 measures there) drums usually play bass on 1, snare on 2 and 3. This gives a waltz feel.
    And again you can count in 1/8 notes as 1&2&3& or 16 notes as 1d&d2d&d3d&d giving a total of 12 notes played in the measure while your foot taps 3 times.
    The beat does not slow down or speed up as you go to 1/8/or 1/16 notes, the beat always stays steady, you just play more or less notes per measure as the tune calls for.
    Hope this helps, it can be confusing, but it is simple once you grab on to it. Check the libster website, they have more info.
    This also why we learn music theory instead relying on tabs for playing. Tabs are convienent, but theory is the language of music, how we communicate it to each other. If you know music theory, you can get a peice of music from russia, and be able to play it ,never having heard it before.
    take care, good luck.
  7. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    ...but, TIME is complex. ;)
    In western music, we have(usually) 12 tones to work with...the time/rhythm possiblities are infinite. ;)

    Another thing-
    ...rather than counting /1-2-3-4/, try counting in 1/2 time; that would be /1--2--/1--2--/ etc. Now see, you're actually counting only on Beat "1" and Beat "3". You can, however, still FEEL all the 1e&a2e&a3e&a4e&a 1/16th note subdivisions.

    Same goes for ODD time things...rather that counting /1-2-3-4-5/, try counting in 1/2 time...
    /1...2...AND./1...2...AND./ etc

    In 7/4-
    /1...2...3...AND./1...2...3...AND./ etc

    Personally, this kinda stuff kicks me in the butt(makes my head hurt!). IMHO, though, it's good to think "like a drummer". ;)


    Apr 13, 2001
    Kent, England.
    Thanks for your help, I think I've got it, I am trying to learn to read music; at the moment I get the notes from the tab and the timing from the manuscript (If that't what you call it) but I got a bit confused..I understand it a bit more now. :)
  9. It just takes some getting used to...
    The trouble i find with tabs, they dont really tell you were the fingering (note) should be within the measure. If you dont know the tune, it is difficult to figure out were they sould be played.
    Good luck on learning to read music, there are lots of helpful websites out there.
  10. Boplicity

    Boplicity Supporting Member

    Fleabite, when you are beginning to read music and tab, also, the hardest thing to do is to fit what you see in the tab or notation to the music.

    Here's the best advice I can give you. Get a simple song...say a Green Day or early Offspring song. Get the tab or standard notation. Sit down and listen to the record over and over and over (until you hate the song.) Have your manuscript in front of you as you listen and try to pick out where in the song certain points of the manuscript are, for example, a chorus, a verse, a bridge, an intro or outro, and, of course, any solo.

    Once you get the major parts, then try to see where they break down by bar to bar. That's when you will begin to hear the timing of notes.

    Here's what I have done. Manuscripts aren't sacred. I write on them and mark them up with a red or green pen. I make comments about "markers" in the song such as a drum fill that stands out or some other thing, such as the vocalist doing something that stands out or singers singing along with the lead vocalist. I also circle signals for codas and repeats.

    Once I have annotated the manuscript for special traits that help to form a roadmap of the song, then it is infinitiely easier to listen to the smallest parts of the song and understand the timing of small passages and not get lost.

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