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Sometimes, what we see is not what we get, and some meters in music are definitely that way. Learn about duple meters and the difference between a simple duple meter and a compound duple meter.

Meter in Music

Have you ever opened a candy bar and found two smaller bars inside instead of one big one? Meters in music can be like that sometimes; what we see is not always what we get.A set pattern of weak and strong beats in music is called a meter, and it is represented by a time signature.

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The top number of a time signature tells how many beats are in one measure, and the bottom number tells what kind of note is counted as one beat.Let’s look at two common time signatures and what they mean:

duple time signatures

There are two basic types of meters: simple meters and compound meters. If the beat of a meter can be divided into two equal parts, it is a simple meter. If the beat can be divided into three equal parts, it is a compound meter.

A meter is also known by how many beats it has per measure. A meter with two beats per measure is called a duple meter, and the two types of duple meter are simple duple meter and compound duple meter.

Simple Duple Meter

Let’s consider the simple duple meter in more detail. Every note in music can be broken down into smaller units called subdivisions. These are the most common subdivisions:

simple duple

Notice that the last time signature in the above image looks like the letter ‘C’ with a vertical line through it. This time signature is called cut time and is read like 2/2, but it generally indicates a faster tempo.

Compound Duple Meter

Now let’s take a closer look at a compound duple meter. Remember the candy bar we talked about? It had two pieces instead of one.

Sometimes in meters, what we think should be a simple meter is actually a compound meter. The 6/8 meter is a perfect example.The eighth note is the beat of the 6/8 meter, and since that eighth note can be divided into two equal parts, we would think that 6/8 would be a simple meter. But, that is not the case. 6/8 is actually the most common compound duple meter.

Let’s find out why.The six eighth notes of 6/8 meter are written as two groups of three. This gives the feeling of two strong beats in a measure. Each main beat is the length of three eighth notes, which can be written as a dotted quarter note, like this:

dotted quarter

In 6/8 meter, the dotted quarter is considered the beat, and there are two of them in each measure. This is what makes 6/8 meter a compound duple meter; compound because its main beat can be divided into three parts and duple because there are two main beats per measure:

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