# How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

Can I ask why you need to know?

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

I mean, I suppose I don’t really ;) but I play for local dances sometimes, and the caller will just say, “play something 4/4!” Or something like that. Also, I was going to try to notate it as a exercise in theory.

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

And a bit more info as to how you learn music would help. If you’re a ear player, just go by whatever is the strongest beat in the music(strongest beat in capitals):
is it ONE two ONE two = 2/4, as in some polkas and marches
or ONE 2 3 ONE 2 3 = 3/4, as for waltzes
or ONE 2 3 4 ONE 2 3 4 = 4/4, as for reels and some marches
When you get into jigs, you’re into what’s called compound time, so you would have:
ONE 2 3 TWO 2 3 for one bar of 6/8 (simple jigs)
ONE 2 3 TWO 2 3 THREE 2 3 for one bar of 9/8 (Slip Jigs) or
ONE 2 3 TWO 2 3 THREE 2 3 FOUR 2 3 for one bar of 12/8 (Slides)
Beyond that, if you want to get into 5/4 and/or Balkan rhythms, that’s maybe a bit advanced yet!

If you do read music, then buying a straightforward book on music theory may be the best answer, e.g. In the UK, the book produced by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

Cross-posted with you Kaeleigh. Yeah, get that book,: it’s not too tricky: but having said that, you could get away with playing 2/4 or 4/4 unless there’s a real nerd in your audience!

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

Ah! I just found out what happened! I deleted my original post!
What I wondered was, how can I tell what the time signature of a tune is if I wrote it.
I write my own tunes now and again and while I’m pretty good at keeping the timing standard throughout, my music theory is (obviously!) weak and I can’t really tell what the timing is!
I wrote this tune thinking it was a reel or maybe a barndance, at least that it was 4/4.
But I talked to another fiddler who said it was 2/4. Which, if either, is it? And how can I tell?

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

Thank you! That makes sense. I don’t read music yet, but I’m trying…

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

A simple tip for telling the difference between jigs and reels when listening I thought was good and can’t remember where I heard it: repeating ‘en-er-gy’ under your breath fits for jigs, ‘gen-er-a-tor’ for reels.

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

I’m getting a definite 2/4 off that Kaeleigh too, but eminently danceable! Well done!

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

It depends on how you feel the beats and what note lengths you decide to go for. By that I mean you’ll find reels notated in 2/4 with mainly semi quavers (16th notes) and some notated in 2/2 (cut time) with mainly quavers (8th notes).
For your barn dance, even though I only feel two beats per bar, I’d probably notate it in 4/4 as that’s what most people understand.
You really don’t need to concern yourself over the subtle (and sometimes arbitrary) differences between simple time signatures. Playing and enjoying your music is where it’s at.

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

That’s a good tune, Kaeliegh. I don’t "know" what time signature it is in, but my foot wants to tap 1,2, 1, 2 … .

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

Agreed, FB, as per my post above.
And I wouldn’t get too lost in the oft-repeated discussion about whether reels are 2/2 or 4/4: just get on and play, and people WILL dance!

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

Diddly diddly dister diddly- jigs (6/8)
Ding dong ding dong didder dong ding dong- reels (4/4).
Bosh slap slap Bosh slap slap- waltz (3/4)
Happy and I’m smiling, Walk a mile to drink your water- Jethro Tull (5/4)
He’s a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or blanket on anyway anyway- Zappa (17/8)

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

@Kaeleigh Miller - It sounds like a barndance to me. It might pass for a hornpipe, but not a reel (at least, not the way you are playing it). As for time signature, it sounds 4/4 enough to me.

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

Having listened to this (unfortunately short - love it but) performance, many times and counted it out, I feel that DonaldK and CMO have it correct at 4/4. I really don’t know yet what makes a hornpipe (having not played one), and in our part of the world, a barn-dance tune is normally 6/8.
I chose 4/4 because it seems to run at 8 bars of 4/4 per part. Really nice tune though.

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

As it’s a Barn Dance it’s probably a reel or hornpipe in 4/4 time - which it certainly sounds like to my ears!

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

Peter Berner: "… in our part of the world, a barn-dance tune is normally 6/8."

What part of the world is that, out of curiosity? Do your barndances have the same kind of structure as Irish ones? (e.g. https://thesession.org/tunes/1376 , https://thesession.org/tunes/2998 ). Note that a lot of the tunes posted in the database as ‘barndances’ are not really - it’s just a convenient category for any tune in 4/4 that does not fit anywhere else, e.g. a song melody). Since Irish barndances are normally played with a fair amount of swing (i.e. AA is played as A>A or (3A-A A ) they *could* be notated in 6/8 (although 12/8 would suit the phrase structure better: 1 bar of 12/8 = 1 bar of 4/4) but it is not the convention.

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

maybe a hornpipe? I’m sure there was [maybe sub-consciously] a little ‘Bantry Bay’ in there!

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

To my ears, the posted tune is 4/4 and hornpipe-like enough.

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

I agree with jeff_lindqvist- the time signature is 4/4, and it’s a hornpipe.

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

I am counting in 4 and tapping my foot on 1 and 3. The tune seems to invite triplets like a hornpipe does.

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

Yes, barndance. Not 6/8 though; if that’s your question.

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### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

Liverpool Liverpool Liverpool liverpool JIG
Paramata Paramata Paramata Paramata REEL
London london London MARCH HORNPIPE POLKA

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

You should ask the caller to be more specific. A time signature is a very broad brush, and there can be internal differences of rhythm and emphasis within the bars which can completely alter the ‘feel’of the tune, and its suitability for a particular dance. 4/4 can include marches, hornpipes, polkas and reels (although some say reels should be 2/4). Waltzes and mazurkas are both in 3/4 but the emphasis is quite different. Jigs are in 6/8 (or 9/8. or 12/8) but so are some marches.

### Re: How can I tell what time signature a tune is in?

‘just play something 4/4’ is vague to the point of being useless - could mean anything from a steady hornpipe to a warp speed reel and sure as hell isn’t going to fit every dance! Does this ‘caller’ ever specify anything like speed, number of bars [ usually multiples of 16] number of times through the tune? It all sounds a bit chancy…………..

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