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Why is the common time signature "common"?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [BG]' started by carlthegroover, Dec 6, 2011.

  1. I was just reading about time signatures, and some question just popped into my mind: if so many time signatures are available, why is the 4/4 the "common time"?

    And I'm not talking about "well, because it's the most used in pop music". I know that. It is more on the "why is it 4/4 and not, say 5/4"? What makes it so catchy and appealing to be present in 99% (or whichever percentage) of popular music? You can take it as a rather philosophical question if you will.

    Do you think we humans have some predilection to this musical timing? Would it be ingrained in our DNA or something, or it may be related to our heartbeat or whatnot? Has anyone, for instance, come across articles or studies that show some physiological or psychological relationship between the 4/4 signature and its appeal to the average person?
  2. cbrophy


    Nov 11, 2009
    Central MA.
    Think of a clock....what time signature is that?
  3. Duckwater


    May 10, 2010
    USA, Washington
    Because it's easy to follow and dance to
  4. Check out Daniel Levitin's books "This Is Your Brain On Music" and "The World In Six Songs". The short answer is: yes, it's in our DNA.
  5. my thought was it's because we're bi-pedal beings, when you walk down the street rhytmically you're walking in 4/4. perhaps if we had three feet 3/4 would be considered "common" time.
  6. MonetBass

    MonetBass ♪ Just listen ♫ Supporting Member

    Sep 15, 2006
    Tulsa, OK
    That's a misconception: The c-shaped symbol representing 4/4 time is often mistaken as an abbreviation for ‘common time.’ But, however appropriate, its origins are a bit more divine in nature.

    When modern notation was in its first stages of development, both the complete circle and the number 3 were regarded as perfect – the circle because of its infinite line, and 3 because it represented the Holy Trinity. This led to triple meter (also called “perfect time”) being represented by the circle, while imperfect time – a type of quadruple meter – was written using an incomplete, “imperfect” circle.
  7. Internet Police

    Internet Police

    Sep 4, 2011
    It's because the mind likes the roundness of 4/4. Take your favorite 4/4 pop song. Everything sounds nice because the measures have definite beginnings but no real endings. It all flows in a circle. Now take a 5/4 song. It has a definite beginning and definite ending. It doesn't flow in the circular pattern that the mind likes. 4/4 is common time because your mind likes the way it flows.
    That was a bad explanation, huh?

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