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Time Signatures - Understanding How and Why They Work

Instructor: Sean Conklin Total lessons in study:
In this in-depth study, Sean not only explains the rhythmic theory behind time signatures, he also gives real-world examples of how to apply them.

1. Time Signature Basics

Text Guitar Lesson
Free 1. Time Signatures - How They Work
Reference
Any Style
Beginner
4/4? 7/8? 3/4? 6/8? 19/16? 9/8? What do all these numbers mean!? Ever wonder what those fraction looking things are at the beginning of every piece of music? And what do those numbers mean anyway? What are they for? Well, have no fear my guitar-playing friend. Time signatures aren't as complicated as they might seem. Ev...Read More
2. Time Signatures: Introduction
Theory
Any Style
Beginner
Hello and welcome! In this tutorial we're going to take a very in-depth look at time signatures. This is a rather large tutorial, but don't let that overwhelm you. I'd encourage you to go through it slowly so you can digest all the information. First off, if you have no idea what time signatures are or how they work, pleas...Read More

2. Analyzing the 4/4 Time Signature

3. Time Signatures: 4/4 - Overview
Theory
Any Style
Beginner
With time signatures, we will always see 2 numbers in the form of a fraction. (Yes, music has math too!) So we'll see a number on top, and a number on the bottom. The top number represents how many of a certain note, and the bottom number represents what kind of a certain note. If you haven't already, be sure to check out t...Read More
4. Time Signatures: 4/4 - Example 1 (Easy)
Cool Riffs
Rock
Beginner
You'll notice in the example videos, I count the time signature out loud at the beginning. I strongly recommend you count out loud during these exercises if possible. If you can count out loud as you play, that will help develop your sense of rhythm immensely. In this example, we're going to be playing a few simple chords ...Read More
5. Time Signatures: 4/4 - Example 2 (Advanced)
Cool Riffs
Fusion
Advanced
Here we have a more advanced example in a blues-rock-funk style. So we'll just call it a 'Fusion' style. :) There's a lot going on within each bar, so learn it very slowly. And really listen for that 4/4 pulse. Since there's a lot happening with the instruments, it can be difficult to hear the 4/4 count, but it's definitel...Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
6. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 4/4 Ex. 1
Cool Riffs
Rock
Beginner
I strongly recommend you count out loud during these exercises if possible. If you can count out loud as you play, that will help develop your sense of rhythm immensely. In this example, we're going to be playing a few simple chords using eighth notes. Concentrate on feeling that solid 4/4 pulse as you count and play.Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
7. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 4/4 Ex. 2
Cool Riffs
Fusion
Advanced
Here we have a more advanced example in a blues-rock-funk style. So we'll just call it a 'Fusion' style. :) There's a lot going on within each bar, so learn it very slowly. And really listen for that 4/4 pulse. Since there's a lot happening with the instruments, it can be difficult to hear the 4/4 count, but it's definitel...Read More

3. Analyzing the 3/4 Time Signature

8. Time Signatures: 3/4 - Overview
Theory
Any Style
Beginner
We now continue exploring the quarter note time signatures with 3/4. With the top number being '3' and the bottom number being '4', we can conclude that the 3/4 time signature represents three quarter notes in a measure. You can count the beats of a 3/4 time signature as follows: 'One Two Three'Read More
9. Time Signatures: 3/4 - Example 1 (Easy)
Cool Riffs
Rock
Beginner
This 3/4 example is pretty straightforward. Be sure to count 'One Two Three' out loud while you play.Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
10. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 3/4 Ex. 1
Cool Riffs
Rock
Beginner
This 3/4 example is pretty straightforward. Be sure to count 'One Two Three' out loud while you play.Read More

4. Analyzing the 5/4 Time Signature

11. Time Signatures: 5/4 - Overview
Theory
Any Style
Beginner
The last quarter note time signature we're going to look at is 5/4. With the top number being '5' and the bottom number being '4', we can conclude that the 5/4 time signature represents five quarter notes in a measure. You can count the beats of a 5/4 time signature as follows: 'One Two Three Four Five'Read More
12. Time Signatures: 5/4 - Example 1 (Easy)
Cool Riffs
Rock
Beginner
Since 5/4 has an extra quarter note beat, it's going to have a somewhat 'extended' feel to it. In this particular example, we're going to be strumming some basic chords to the 5/4 time signature. For the first four beats, we're just going to strum quarter notes, then on the 5th beat, we're going to strum two eighth notes. ...Read More
13. Time Signatures: 5/4 - Example 2 (Advanced)
Cool Riffs
Metal
Advanced
In the second 5/4 example, we're going to play an intense metal riff. As always, make sure you practice counting along with the riff before you start to physically learn it.Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
14. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 5/4 Ex. 1
Cool Riffs
Rock
Beginner
Since 5/4 has an extra quarter note beat, it's going to have a somewhat 'extended' feel to it. In this particular example, we're going to be strumming some basic chords to the 5/4 time signature. For the first four beats, we're just going to strum quarter notes, then on the 5th beat, we're going to strum two eighth notes. ...Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
15. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 5/4 Ex. 2
Cool Riffs
Metal
Advanced
In the second 5/4 example, we're going to play an intense metal riff. As always, make sure you practice counting along with the riff before you start to physically learn it.Read More

5. Analyzing the 6/8 Time Signature

16. Time Signatures: 6/8 - Overview
Theory
Any Style
Beginner
We're now going to look at our first eighth note time signature, 6/8. With the top number being '6' and the bottom number being '8', we can conclude that the 6/8 time signature represents six eighth notes in a measure. You can count the beats of a 6/8 time signature as follows: 'One Two Three Four Five Six' Or, you can a...Read More
17. Time Signatures: 6/8 - Example 1 (Easy)
Cool Riffs
Rock
Beginner
In this 6/8 example, we're going to use a few power chords along with the open G and B strings. Be sure to use alternate picking throughout.Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
18. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 6/8 Ex. 1
Cool Riffs
Rock
Beginner
In this 6/8 example, we're going to use a few power chords along with the open G and B strings. Be sure to use alternate picking throughout.Read More

6. Analyzing the 7/8 Time Signature

19. Time Signatures: 7/8 - Overview
Theory
Any Style
Beginner
We're now going to look at the 7/8 time signature. With the top number being '7' and the bottom number being '8', we can conclude that the 7/8 time signature represents seven eighth notes in a measure. You can count the beats of a 7/8 time signature as follows: 'One Two Three Four Five Six Sev'. Notice how I said 'Sev' in...Read More
20. Time Signatures: 7/8 - Example 1 (Easy)
Cool Riffs
Rock
Beginner
In the first 7/8 example, we're going to play a subtle yet dynamic palm-muted riff. As always, count along with the riff before learning it.Read More
21. Time Signatures: 7/8 - Example 2 (Advanced)
Cool Riffs
Metal
Advanced
This 7/8 example has a bit of a 'celtic metal' feel to it. It's also quite a bit more advanced than the previous example. Be sure to get the count down first, then practice the riff very slowly.Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
22. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 7/8 Ex. 1
Cool Riffs
Rock
Beginner
In the first 7/8 example, we're going to play a subtle yet dynamic palm-muted riff. As always, count along with the riff before learning it.Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
23. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 7/8 Ex. 2
Cool Riffs
Metal
Advanced
This 7/8 example has a bit of a 'celtic metal' feel to it. It's also quite a bit more advanced than the previous example. Be sure to get the count down first, then practice the riff very slowly.Read More

7. Analyzing the 9/8 Time Signature

24. Time Signatures: 9/8 - Overview
Theory
Any Style
Beginner
The last eighth note time signature we're going to look at is 9/8. With the top number being '9' and the bottom number being '8', we can conclude that the 9/8 time signature represents nine eighth notes in a measure. You can count the beats of a 9/8 time signature as follows: 'One Two Three Four Five Six Sev Eight Nine' ...Read More
25. Time Signatures: 9/8 - Example 1 (Easy)
Cool Riffs
Blues
Intermediate
Now, we're going to delve into a bit of blues as we explore the 9/8 time signature. This riff will consist primarily of eighth notes. As always, do your best to count along as you play.Read More
26. Time Signatures: 9/8 - Example 2 (Advanced)
Cool Riffs
Metal
Advanced
In this 9/8 example, we're going to utilize a lot of silence between quick bursts of notes. This will require some very tight rhythm playing, so make sure your mutes are executed cleanly. And as always, analyze and count along to the riff before you physically learn it.Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
27. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 9/8 Ex. 1
Cool Riffs
Blues
Intermediate
Now, we're going to delve into a bit of blues as we explore the 9/8 time signature. This riff will consist primarily of eighth notes. As always, do your best to count along as you play.Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
28. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 9/8 Ex. 2
Cool Riffs
Metal
Advanced
In this 9/8 example, we're going to utilize a lot of silence between quick bursts of notes. This will require some very tight rhythm playing, so make sure your mutes are executed cleanly.Read More

8. Analyzing the 15/16 Time Signature

29. Time Signatures: 15/16 - Overview
Theory
Any Style
Beginner
We're now going to look at our first sixteenth note time signature, 15/16. With the top number being '15' and the bottom number being '16', we can conclude that the 15/16 time signature represents fifteen sixteenth notes in a measure. You can count the beats of a 15/16 time signature as follows: 'One ee and uh Two ee and ...Read More
30. Time Signatures: 15/16 - Example 1 (Easy)
Cool Riffs
Rock
Intermediate
In this 15/16 example, we'll be using 16th notes exclusively as we play a few arpeggios. I'd recommend using alternate picking while you play this, and also starting on a downstroke with each measure. However, watch out for the last note in each measure. Since the last note in each measure is a downstroke, and the first no...Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
31. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 15/16 Ex. 1
Cool Riffs
Rock
Intermediate
In this 15/16 example, we'll be using 16th notes exclusively as we play a few arpeggios. I'd recommend using alternate picking while you play this, and also starting on a downstroke with each measure. However, watch out for the last note in each measure. Since the last note in each measure is a downstroke, and the first no...Read More

9. Analyzing the 19/16 Time Signature

32. Time Signatures: 19/16 - Overview
Theory
Any Style
Beginner
The last sixteenth note time signature we'll be looking at is 19/16. With the top number being '19' and the bottom number being '16', we can conclude that the 19/16 time signature represents nineteen sixteenth notes in a measure. You can count the beats of a 19/16 time signature as follows: 'One ee and uh Two ee and uh Th...Read More
33. Time Signatures: 19/16 - Example 1 (Easy)
Cool Riffs
Rock
Intermediate
With the first 19/16 example, we're going to play a short bar chord riff. You'll primarily be playing 8th notes as you strum. However, at the end of each measure we'll be strumming three 16th notes.Read More
34. Time Signatures: 19/16 - Example 2 (Advanced)
Cool Riffs
Rock
Advanced
In the last 19/16 time signature, we're going to use a good amount of legato. Practice the legato sections slowly at first and make sure the notes are equal in volume.Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
35. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 19/16 Ex. 1
Cool Riffs
Rock
Intermediate
With the first 19/16 example, we're going to play a short bar chord riff. You'll primarily be playing 8th notes as you strum. However, at the end of each measure we'll be strumming three 16th notes.Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
36. Time Signatures: Backing Track - 19/16 Ex. 2
Cool Riffs
Rock
Advanced
In the last 19/16 time signature, we're going to use a good amount of legato. Practice the legato sections slowly at first and make sure the notes are equal in volume.Read More

10. Mixing Multiple Time Signatures Together

37. Time Signatures: Mixing Them Together Ex. 1 (Easy)
Cool Riffs
Rock
Intermediate
This is our first example where we'll be using more than one kind of time signature. In this particular exercise, we're going to use 6/8, 5/8, and 4/4. Now that we're mixing time signatures, it's especially important that you count the time signatures along with the video before you actually learn the riff. Remember, this t...Read More
38. Time Signatures: Mixing Them Together Ex. 2 (Advanced)
Cool Riffs
Rock
Advanced
We're now going to be mixing the following time signatures: 7/8, 4/4, 15/16, and 19/16. This passage has a bit of a Joe Satriani vibe to it. The most difficult parts you'll face with this are the 15/16 and the 19/16 sections. The transition from one measure to the next is what's tricky. You'll notice that the last note in ...Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
39. Time Signatures: Backing Track - Mix 1
Cool Riffs
Rock
Beginner
This is our first example where we'll be using more than one kind of time signature. In this particular exercise, we're going to use 6/8, 5/8, and 4/4.Read More
Audio Guitar Lesson
40. Time Signatures: Backing Track - Mix 2
Cool Riffs
Rock
Advanced
We're now going to be mixing the following time signatures: 7/8, 4/4, 15/16, and 19/16. This passage has a bit of a Joe Satriani vibe to it. The most difficult parts you'll face with this are the 15/16 and the 19/16 sections. The transition from one measure to the next is what's tricky. You'll notice that the last note in ...Read More

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