4/4 time signature

What is a 4/4 time signature?

A 4/4 time signature, or “common time”, is a widely used beat pattern in Western popular music. It consists of two numbers written like a fraction. The top number tells you how many beats to count, and the bottom number tells you what kind of note to count relative to the beat.

In the case of a 4/4 time signature:

  • The top number ‘4’ indicates that each measure (or bar) contains four beats.
  • The bottom number ‘4’ signifies that a quarter note represents one beat.

So, in 4/4 time, each measure will contain four quarter note beats. Each time you tap the beat, you tap the equivalent of a one-quarter note.

This time signature is used in various genres, most frequently in rock, blues, country, funk, and pop music1. Some popular songs written in 4/4 time include “Whiskey In The Jar” by Thin Lizzy, “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran, and “Who Wants To Live Forever” by Queen1.

Examples of songs in 4/4 time signature across various genres:

  1. Rock: “We Will Rock You” by Queen², “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC
  2. Pop: “Photograph” by Ed Sheeran³, “I’m A Believer” by The Monkees
  3. Country: “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'” by Nancy Sinatra
  4. Alternative Rock: “Time Is Running Out” by Muse
  5. Classical: “Ode to Joy” (9th Symphony) by Beethoven

How to Play Music in a 4/4 Time Signature

Playing music in a 4/4 time signature involves understanding the structure of the music and the rhythm. Here are the steps to play music in a 4/4 time signature:

  1. Understand the Time Signature: The 4/4 time signature tells you that each measure will contain four quarter note beats. So each time you tap the beat, you tap the equivalent of one quarter note.
  2. Count the Beats: When playing in 4/4 time, you count as you play to keep a regular beat. You count 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, and so on.
  3. Note Durations: Quarter notes last one beat, half notes two beats, and whole notes hold for four beats. If you have eighth notes, you play two of them in one beat.
  4. Feel the Rhythm: The 4/4 time signature sounds very stable even since you have four beats in each measure1. You can use a variety of rhythms and note values as long as they add up to four quarter notes in a measure.
  5. Practice with Music: Try practicing with some songs in 4/4 time to get a feel for the rhythm. This will help you understand how the time signature influences the feel and flow of the music.
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What’s the difference between a 4/4 and other time signatures?

Time SignatureBeats per MeasureBeat UnitDescription
4/44Quarter noteAlso known as “common time”, it has a steady feel with four beats per measure1. Each beat is represented by a quarter note.
2/42Quarter noteEach measure has two beats, each represented by a quarter note. It has a different feel compared to 4/4, with a strong downbeat on each measure2.
8/88Eighth noteEach measure is divided into eight beats, each represented by an eighth note. It feels brisk compared to 4/4.
3/43Quarter noteKnown as “waltz time”, each measure has three beats, each represented by a quarter note1. It has a distinct waltz feel.
6/86Eighth noteEach measure has six beats, often broken up into two beats, each with a triplet feel1. It has a different feel compared to 3/4.

Remember, the time signature is a way for the composer to convey how they imagine the measure divided and the feel or pulse of the music1.

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