Teach Yourself Music Theory – 20.) Mixing Beat Divisions

To remind: when you are in simple meter (4/4) the beat is easily divided into 2s or 4s, and when you are in compound meter (12/8) the beat is divided into 3s or 6s. Review old posts if you are not familiar with these concepts.

However, just because you are in simple meter doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate compound meter divisions.

Take an example below:

We know that this piece is in duple meter because the time signature is 4/4, but there is a figure notated with a “3.” This is called a triplet, and it appears in duple meter pieces to tell the performer to divide the beat into three eighth notes of even length instead of two – just as you would find in a compound meter.

This can happen in reverse, too…

Thae a look now at this example:

This piece is in compound meter (12/8 and the beat is divided into 3s), but there are two figures – one noted with a “2” and the other with a “4.” They are called duplets and quadruplets respectively, and they divide the beats in compound meter pieces into even divisions.

Practice performing switching between these different divisions.

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Tip #98 – Pushing-Forward by Dropping a Beat

There are several ways that you can create an effect of pushing forward within a piece of music. The music can increase in dynamics (volume), increase in tempo (speed), become more accentuated, modulate, or have rhythmic anticipations in the melody or harmony.

But what if we become so anticipatory that we skip an entire beat?

In some compositions and popular songs, a steady meter of 4/4 might momentarily drop to 3/4 do accomplish some of the following:

  1. Push forward to a new section
  2. Create a moment of cutting-off early an older section
  3. Reformat the melody to land on a strong beat in an awkward meter

Each of them having the common purpose to make things line metrically in the song according to the hierarchy of beats while creating an unexpected surprise while dropping a beat to mimic momentum into a new section.

I encourage you to play around with a melodic riff and see how dropping a beat in a what-would-be 4/4 sound like.

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Teach Yourself Music Theory – 6.) Those Sick Beats

Being in the music industry, I find too often people trying to make a living by selling “beats,” implying that the word is synonymous to their cool groove they spent hours on with their laptop program for upcoming rap artists that are so fire. Let’s make this clear…

A beat is the pulse in a piece of music. That’s it. When you are listening to your favorite song, you are more than likely tapping your foot or nodding your head in-time to the beat. Of course, you might be hearing some notes that appear on the beat – or within the beat. In the grand hierarchy scheme of things, the notes that appear between the main pulse are part of the beat divisions or subdivisions.

But now we need a framework; so we incorporate meter, which is how beats are divided and grouped into larger recurring units giving emphasis to certain beats. You have already seen this in place on a score with the use of measures grouping notes together and having the bar lines on the staff separate the measures from one another.

The first beat of a measure is called a downbeat and gets the most power. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the upbeat which is the lightest and appears before the downbeat on the last beat of the previous measure. So just before the bar line.

So the first way to categorize meter is by how the primary beat is divided. If the beat is easily divided in two, then it is a simple meter. On the other hand, if the beat is divided into three, then it is called a compound meter.

Groups of two or groups of three essentially. Now, the next way to categorize is by how many groups there are. If there are two groups of two/three, then it is called duple meter. Three groups mean it is triple meter, and four groups is quadruple meter. So, if we have three groups of beats that are easily divided into two, we should call it: simple triple meter.

In the examples shown, you’ve probably seen two numbers that somewhat look like a fraction found in math. These “fractions” are your meter/time signatures that tell you the meter type. The top number tells how many primary pulses are within a measure, and the bottom tells the beat unit — more on that to come next time!

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