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4/4, 2/4, 2/2 - Which and why?

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Jun 14, 2019 - 5:32:47 PM
3399 posts since 3/12/2006

Hi All,
Yes, I know this forum is not an active one here on the Banjo side, but after writing books for Mel Bay for over 20 years now, I am starting on another project and wondered if it made any difference to anyone which time signature was used when transcribing tunes.

Up until this point I have either not put a time sig. (particularly in banjo tab) or used C or 4/4 and written based in 1/8 and 1/4 notes. 2/2 would be the same notes, but the metronome time would be half (i.e. 120 in 2/2 or 2/4 would be 240 in 4/4 to properly count the beats). Again, most of us just don't make that much investment in the details. 2/4 would put in 1/16 notes instead of 1/8s and 1/8's instead of 1/4 notes. SO it looks more cluttered but might be more accurate. (John Hartford wrote in 2/4).

My theory is not non-existent but not this refined. Maybe just won't make any difference but inquiring minds want to know.

Play Nice,
Dan Levenson
www.Clawdan.com
Author of Clawhammer Banjo From Scratch and 13 other Mel Bay Publications.

Jun 14, 2019 - 5:58:23 PM

lature

USA

107 posts since 12/11/2017

When Trischka/Munde put out their first tab books they skipped the time signature all together. They grouped notes as 2 groups of 4 so I assume the tabs were in 2/2. They didn't provide any tempo.

Munde just released a new tab book and it contains both 4/4 and 2/2 and always includes a tempo. 2/2 is for faster songs so you can avoid tempos over 200.

Trischka recently put out a tab book with his compositions in it - also in 4/4 and 2/2 for faster songs. Doesn't include a tempo.

The Scruggs book has always used 2/4 and no tempo.

The great 4/4, 2/2, 2/4 debate is about style. It's your book so do what you prefer. There is no best way. However, if you choose 4/4 for faster songs remember to include a tempo that says something like "1/2=140". The default for 4/4 is "1/4=140" which is slow motion.

Jun 14, 2019 - 6:53:34 PM

Bill Rogers (Moderator)

USA

22100 posts since 6/25/2005

I can’t really read tab or music. When I battle with
one or the other, all I care about is the note and/or fret position.

Edited by - Bill Rogers on 06/14/2019 18:54:03

Jun 14, 2019 - 8:05:49 PM
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Alex Z

USA

3559 posts since 12/7/2006

I've encountered many tabs that don't show timing accurately (and I mean timing, not meter), and students that get confused by such because there is no logical perspective on when to play the longer notes.  Now, once the tune is learned, all is OK -- but by then you don't need the music anymore.

It helps if the timing and rhythm is considered musically.  "Beat" means the feel of tapping your foot.

  -- Boom:  the bass plays a note every beat.

  -- Boom-chick:  the guitar plays a note plus a strum, once each beat.

  -- Bump-a-ditty:  the banjo plays 4 notes each beat.

Normally, for me, I transcribe in musical notation in 2/4, because it makes sense in the way I think of musical pulse compared to metric beat.

A tablature in 2/2 gets rid of the 16th notes and shows 8th notes and quarter notes.  This looks a lot simpler and the quarter notes stand out better visually.

I don't see any reason to use 4/4.  Bluegrass has a 2/4 feel, and if you go to 4/4 with the same amount of notes in one measure as one measure of 2/4, that gets into the metronome confusion of metric "beat" versus musical pulse.

For a published book, I'd go 2/2, and definitely put in the time signature.  There are plenty of tunes that throw in an extra beat (Clinch Mt. Backstep, Wheel Hoss, Uncle Pen, etc.) and need to define to the reader how to play these.

Jun 14, 2019 - 9:19:09 PM

Mooooo

USA

7028 posts since 8/20/2016

Disclaimer: I am talking about typical Bluegrass and clawhammer songs. There are exceptions to everything.

You have to decide if you think Bum-pa Dit-ty is one beat or two. I think it's one beat, so I use 2/4 or 2/2 for typical bluegrass and clawhammer (old time) songs. If you think it is two beats, you are wrong and everyone is going to get confused about the beats when you use 4/4 time. I could go on for days, but I won't. People like to count the off beat and tell you you are in 4/4, but that is as silly as saying 2/4 at 120bpm is the same as 4/4 at 240bpm. It's not the same. That person is just counting the off beat. A quarter note is a quarter note. One beat is one beat. The beat doesn't change because you decide to count twice as many beats or half as many. You can divide a measure infinitely but that doesn't mean you are counting a beat, it means you are counting some division or multiple of a beat.

Genres like Rock are typically in 4/4 and I believe that is where lots of people who come from a  rock guitar background get confused and insist on 4/4 timing. They will automatically count off 1,2,3,4 to start off a song out of habit. But setting the beat ain't the same as writing it down properly.

Edited by - Mooooo on 06/14/2019 21:24:18

Jun 14, 2019 - 10:54:25 PM

Mooooo

USA

7028 posts since 8/20/2016

I forgot to mention... One of the more famous rock songs with a banjo is "Take It Easy" by the Eagles. If you tab out that song you're going to want to tab it in 4/4 timing with 16th notes...so you will pick 16 notes every measure. If you listen you can hear the beat is in 4/4 and not in 2/4 or 2/2.

Jun 15, 2019 - 4:32:31 AM
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lature

USA

107 posts since 12/11/2017

quote:
Originally posted by Mooooo

If you listen you can hear the beat is in 4/4 and not in 2/4 or 2/2.


This is why there is so much confusion about 4/4, 2/2 and 2/4. There is no such thing as "beat is in 4/4." The time signature specifies how much stuff fits in a measure. You use the tempo to specify the beat. So you can specify any beat you want for 4/4, 2/2 or 2/4. 

For example, look at 6/8 time. The time signature says that each measure contains 6 eighth notes. The tempo says the beat is twice per measure -- every 3 eighth notes. That's why jigs are written as 2 groups of 3 notes. But where is the tempo beat specified? It definitely isn't in the time signature. It turns out that every time signature has a default tempo beat that you can override if you want, and for 6/8 the default is a dotted quarter (something you have to memorize).

Another example from music notation is the tempo as an Italian word. Foggy Mountain would be at tempo 'allegro' -- around 120 to 150 BPM. Put allegro on a 4/4 song and a 2/2 song. The song in 4/4 would play half speed and the 2/2 version would play correctly. If you wanted the 4/4 version to play correctly you would have to override the default tempo from '1/4=allegro' to '1/2=allegro'. That's why Munde/Trischka/... use 2/2 time for fast songs because the default tempo for 2/2 time is '1/2=allegro' -- you don't have to override it and you can use the music notation standard tempo words (e.g. allegro) if you want like in Alan Munde's latest tab book (Munde uses English translations of Italian words like 'moderately' and 'slow'.)

Another example --- classical music notation contains a time signature AND TEMPO in the first measure (ALWAYS). When the tab people came along and simplified out the time signature and/or tempo, endless confusion followed. It's best to follow music notation's defaults and use 4/4 for slow songs and 2/2 or 2/4 for fast songs and never specify a tempo over 200 BPM (the max speed of a metronome.) So when your metronome setting starts to get close to 200, switch to 2/2 or 2/4 time.

Jun 15, 2019 - 4:40:34 AM
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Texasbanjo (Moderator)

USA

23037 posts since 8/3/2003

If we're talking beginner books, 4/4 is the easiest for beginners to understand, at least from what I've seen and heard. Most beginners can understand 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & when doing rolls. 4/4 can be slow enough for a beginner to pick along with a beat. If the music happens to be in standard musical notation instead of tab, it's easier to read quarter and 8th notes than it is 16th and 32nd notes.    

When people are just starting to learn, there is so much to comprehend that the old KISS principle works very well and 4/4 is the easiest to teach.  Just my take.

Edited by - Texasbanjo on 06/15/2019 04:42:05

Jun 15, 2019 - 5:37:01 AM
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3228 posts since 3/28/2008

I'm with Alex Z and Mooooo--mostly.

But as Mooooo says, "There are exceptions to everything." I'd say there are some bluegrass songs that have a 4/4 feel, though most up-tempo bluegrass does have a two-beat feel.

In the bigger picture, I'd say that quarter note, half note, etc. have no absolute meaning. Each type of time value is defined only in relation to the others--not in relation to any external clock, nor (as Mooooo points out) in relation to the beat.  So IMHO it doesn't matter whether your roll or boom-chicka consists of 8 eighth notes in 2/2 or of 8 sixteenth notes in 2/4. For any reasonable banjo purpose those are equivalent.

I note, too, that two of our earliest tablature writers--Pete Seeger and Bill Keith--were both musically literate, and felt that a two-beat measure best represented the common bluegrass and old-time groove.

Now as for why some waltzes should be written in 3, while others should be written in 6--well, that's a discussion for another occasion....

Jun 15, 2019 - 7:16:04 AM

Clawdan

USA

3399 posts since 3/12/2006

Thank you all for your input so far. Looks like 2/2 would satisfy most needs when a time signature is in place. Leaning that way for sure.
More soon,
Dan

Jun 15, 2019 - 7:28:38 AM

11 posts since 1/19/2018

The distinction between 2/2 and 4/4 is really about where the natural accents go. Several people have mentioned the "feel" of the song, which is the same thing... But how does one create the "feel?.." It's by accenting the first note of each group.

If you think in terms of 8th notes, 2/2 and 4/4 are both eight 8th notes per measure. But...

In 2/2 time there should be a slight accent every measure on the 1st and 5th eight note. So in silly symbols I'm making up each measure should sound like: > * * * > * * *

In 4/4 time there should be a slight accent every measure on the 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th eight note. In the same silly symbols it should sound like: > * > * > * > *

It's the same as the distinction between 3/4 and 6/8... In 3/4 time you accent the 1st, 3rd, and 5th, giving you > * > * > * , or "three groups of two." In 6/8 you accent the 1st and 4th, giving you > * * > * * , or "two groups of three."

One last thing, in Scruggs style, the signature sound comes from grouping the notes together in the rolls, which land in the off beats... For example, a forward roll over two measures might do: > * * > * * > * * > * * > * > *.
Strictly speaking, the banjo is playing two measures of 6/8 followed by one measure of 2/4. The fact that it takes the same amount of time to play it as it does for the rest of the band to play two measures of 4/4 (or 2/2) is what gives Scruggs style it's signature sound.

Jun 15, 2019 - 8:16:32 AM

RB3

USA

507 posts since 4/12/2004
Online Now

It's a lot like location and real estate. The three most important time signatures for moderate to fast tempo Bluegrass tunes are 2/4, 2/4 and 2/4.

Below is a YouTube link to the classic version of "Your Love Is Like A Flower" by Flatt & Scruggs. It's the quintessential, moderate tempo Bluegrass vocal. If you'll tap your foot to the beat of this tune, you should discover that there are 2 beats per measure.

Your Love Is Like A Flower

The important take away is that the numerator of the time signature should be "2", not "4".  Both 2/4 and 2/2 work, but 4/4 is surely not appropriate.

I wonder if those of you who also favor 2/4 or 2/2 have a theory as to why the preponderance of Bluegrass banjo tablatures incorrectly use a 4/4 time signature.  Also, why didn't the publishers of the Scruggs instructional book use a 4/4 time signature?


 

Jun 15, 2019 - 8:56:18 AM

lature

USA

107 posts since 12/11/2017

quote:
Originally posted by RB3

I wonder if those of you who also favor 2/4 or 2/2 have a theory as to why the preponderance of Bluegrass banjo tablatures incorrectly use a 4/4 time signature.  Also, why didn't the publishers of the Scruggs instructional book use a 4/4 time signature?

My theory is that 4/4 is NOT incorrect. Look at any issue of BNL - 4/4 all over the place. "Masters of" Book - 4/4 all over the place.  Bela Fleck's tab books - 4/4 all over the place.
The confusion is caused because people don't understand the TEMPO signature. It's the thing that can make 4/4 have 2 beats per measure. Music notation has been standardized for hundreds of years and providing a way to have 4/4 with 2 beats per measure has been there since the time of Bach. It's just a style thing. 4/4 seems more normal to people. The first time I saw 2/2 I thought it was a mistake.
Jun 15, 2019 - 10:01:39 AM

Mooooo

USA

7028 posts since 8/20/2016

quote:
Originally posted by lature
quote:
Originally posted by Mooooo

If you listen you can hear the beat is in 4/4 and not in 2/4 or 2/2.


This is why there is so much confusion about 4/4, 2/2 and 2/4. There is no such thing as "beat is in 4/4." The time signature specifies how much stuff fits in a measure. You use the tempo to specify the beat. So you can specify any beat you want for 4/4, 2/2 or 2/4. 


"The time signature specifies how much stuff fits in a measure" Well, maybe you are not aware that if noted correctly you can fit an infinite amount of notes in  a measure. "There is no such thing as "beat is in 4/4" There is such a thing as beat in 4/4, you see the top number tells you how many beats are in each measure and the bottom number tells you which note gets the beat. In the case of 4/4 there are 4 beats in a measure and the quarter note gets the beat. If you write out 8 notes and count 1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a you have two beats with 4 "syllables" per beat,  which would denote 2/2 or 2/4 time. Stress 1 and 2 and you have a 2/2 beat or a 2/4 beat. If you want to use 4/4 with 8 notes per measure you will have 4 beats in each measure, so you would count it 1-and 2-and 3-and 4-and. If you say both of these patterns you can easily hear that they sound very different from each other. In 4/4 time a good drummer will stress the 1 and 3 beats louder than the 2 and 4 beats with the 1 beat being the loudest. In 2/2 or 2/4 he will stress the 1 beat more than the 2 beat.

Jun 15, 2019 - 10:18:55 AM
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AndyW

UK

433 posts since 7/4/2017
Online Now

Dan, bear in mind most of those answering are talking bluegrass where changing 16th notes to 8th notes cleans up a tab. We don't really have that problem in clawhammer.

The tab in your past books has been perfectly readable and importantly compares to most other clawhammer tab out there so no confusion.

Don't fix what ain't broken.

Jun 15, 2019 - 11:17:31 AM
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lature

USA

107 posts since 12/11/2017

quote:
Originally posted by Mooooo
quote:
Originally posted by lature
quote:
Originally posted by Mooooo

If you listen you can hear the beat is in 4/4 and not in 2/4 or 2/2.


This is why there is so much confusion about 4/4, 2/2 and 2/4. There is no such thing as "beat is in 4/4." The time signature specifies how much stuff fits in a measure. You use the tempo to specify the beat. So you can specify any beat you want for 4/4, 2/2 or 2/4. 


"The time signature specifies how much stuff fits in a measure" Well, maybe you are not aware that if noted correctly you can fit an infinite amount of notes in  a measure. "There is no such thing as "beat is in 4/4" There is such a thing as beat in 4/4, you see the top number tells you how many beats are in each measure and the bottom number tells you which note gets the beat. In the case of 4/4 there are 4 beats in a measure and the quarter note gets the beat. If you write out 8 notes and count 1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a you have two beats with 4 "syllables" per beat,  which would denote 2/2 or 2/4 time. Stress 1 and 2 and you have a 2/2 beat or a 2/4 beat. If you want to use 4/4 with 8 notes per measure you will have 4 beats in each measure, so you would count it 1-and 2-and 3-and 4-and. If you say both of these patterns you can easily hear that they sound very different from each other. In 4/4 time a good drummer will stress the 1 and 3 beats louder than the 2 and 4 beats with the 1 beat being the loudest. In 2/2 or 2/4 he will stress the 1 beat more than the 2 beat.


Moooo, You're mixing up time signatures and tempo. The confusion comes from reading a time signature like 4/4 as "4 beats per measure." The time signature is more like a measuring cup -- it tells you how much stuff fits in a measure.

The tempo is something different -- it is all the stuff you talk about above. Normally the tempo matches the time signature however there are cases where it doesn't (e.g. 6/8 time). But most importantly, the tempo beat can be changed without touching the time signature. So you can write in 4/4 and have 2 beats per measure. That is why all those tabs in 4/4 time (with 2 beats per measure) are totally valid.

So I guess we need to find a way to talk about tempo and beats without mentioning time signatures.

Jun 15, 2019 - 11:29:15 AM

Mooooo

USA

7028 posts since 8/20/2016

Tempo means speed, I think you are confusing tempo with meter.

Edited by - Mooooo on 06/15/2019 11:38:51

Jun 15, 2019 - 12:57:17 PM
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lature

USA

107 posts since 12/11/2017

quote:
Originally posted by Mooooo

Tempo means speed, I think you are confusing tempo with meter.


I will be more clear. The tempo signature is just above the time signature. In this case it makes 4/4 time have 2 beats per measure at speed/meter 155 BPM. One little symbol that carries a whole lot of power.

Jun 15, 2019 - 3:40:54 PM

Alex Z

USA

3559 posts since 12/7/2006

In the fragment, the "4/4" could be changed to "2/2" and all would be the same, including the tempo marking that a half note duration occurs 155 times per minute.

The pulse of the music is two per measure.   Sure, it can be notated as 4/4, but why?  4/4 means the unit of measure is a quarter note and there are 4 of them to one measure.  The "Half Note = 155" implies the half note is a "beat".   So as conductors might say, "We're taking this in two" meaning two pulses per measure.  

Not saying the notation is wrong, only that it takes a lot of explanation to get there.  Better in my opinion to mark it as 2/2 -- two beats per measure (matching the pulse of the music) and 155 of such beats per minute.

Edited by - Alex Z on 06/15/2019 15:42:04

Jun 15, 2019 - 5:07:49 PM

lature

USA

107 posts since 12/11/2017

Alex, In Alan Munde's book "Great American Banjo Songbook" he often writes songs in cut time and sets the tempo with: "Moderately, in 2". Now I know what that means :-)

Jun 15, 2019 - 6:08:33 PM

3800 posts since 11/29/2005

I have (nearly) every book you've published, Dan.

So, keep to 4/4 or 3/4 - I know how to work with that! ;)

Jun 15, 2019 - 10:50:58 PM
Players Union Member

janolov

Sweden

39678 posts since 3/7/2006

The time signature  specifies how many  beats (pulses) are contained in each measure (bar), and which  note value is equivalent to a beat.

The lower numeral indicates the note value that represents one beat (the beat unit). 

The upper numeral indicates how many such beats constitute a measure (bar).

So it depends how you interpret the "pulses" or "beat". Usually the pulses are determined by the background instruments. In the attached pic I have tried to illustrate what I think is right based on the background instrument (in this example guitar).. 


Jun 17, 2019 - 4:35:10 AM

3100 posts since 12/6/2009

I dont read tab or any written stuff. I do set my drum machine 2/4 with 16th notes....really pulls along the bluegrass sound.

Jun 17, 2019 - 6:22:19 AM

lature

USA

107 posts since 12/11/2017

I just spent some time trying to find the right terminology for the music notation I've been talking about. Moooo suggests it might be "meter".

In Musescore, you find it in the toolbar on the left side of the page. It is in the "Tempo" option. It lets you set tempo by setting the beat and the BPM or by using a BPM range Italian word like "Allegro". To set it, simply double click one of the options.

In Tabledit, you find it in the menus under Edit->Insert->Tempo Change. Tabledit has a good explanation in its help file. I think you add something like "%tempo2 = 155".

In Lilypond, you add a line like this: "\tempo 2 = 155"

So what do you call it? Best guess is "Tempo Marking" or "Metronome Marking".

Jun 17, 2019 - 11:25:06 AM

Mooooo

USA

7028 posts since 8/20/2016

quote:
Originally posted by lature

I just spent some time trying to find the right terminology for the music notation I've been talking about. Moooo suggests it might be "meter".

So what do you call it? Best guess is "Tempo Marking" or "Metronome Marking".


Please don't put words in my mouth. I said you are confusing meter with tempo because you seem to think you can make a 4/4 time signature only have 2 beats by simply wishing it to be true. You can put your tempo markings down if you want, but you are not changing anything. You are just making people more confused. 4/4 time has 4 beats per measure...that's it. If you want to use eight 8th notes per measure and have two beats per measure, you should use 2/2 time. That's what you don't seem to  grasp.

Jun 17, 2019 - 12:40:43 PM

lature

USA

107 posts since 12/11/2017

Moooo,

Everyone agrees fast songs have 2 beats per measure so 2/2 and 2/4 are a natural fit.

But 4/4 tabs are by far the most common.

If you specify a "tempo marking" in a 4/4 song, many of the 4/4 problems go away. BPMs over 300 come down to the 150 range. The user gets a hint that the beat is in 2, not 4. Remember, the tempo marking is just a recommendation (and often a BPM range).

Adding a tempo marker to a tab simply formalizes something we're all doing in our heads anyway, so what's the harm?

I haven't been able to find a single example of a classical/jazz/pop song in music notation that doesn't have a tempo marking and I have stacks of music books on my piano.

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