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If a piece of music has a time signature of 4/4, how many beats per minute does that equal.  I can set my metronome for so many beats per minute but I haven't been able to find a comparison of time signatures to beats per minute.  I'm sure this is one of the first things every beginning band or piano student learns but here I am 68 years old and never took any music lessons or attempted to play or read music until I picked up my guitar for the first time last year about this time.  I've sang bass in the church choir for a long time and I could basically follow the music patterns although I didn't know what the note was.  I play using tabs but I'm also slowly forcing myself to learn to sight read music.  In this regard, I can tell you they are doggone near right about not being able to teach an old dog new tricks

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Time signature doesn't equate to beats per minutes. It only relates to the number of beats per measure & what type of note gets one beat. In your example , there are 4 beats per measure & a quarter note gets one beat. In 3/4 ("waltz" time), there are 3 beats per measure, with the quarter note gets one. A lot of time, the sheet music will have the speed above the beginning of the 1st measure
It all depends what your notes are in a measure. If you have a whole note and the time signature is 4/4, than that 1 whole notes will have 4 beats in it. If you have two half notes, than both of those notes will have two beats in them each. It works a lot like fractions. if you have four quarter notes, than each of them only receive one.
A whole note has four beats
A half note as two beats
A quarter note has only one beat
than so on and so forth. Its rather simple if we get the drift of it. Always remember, its very similar to fractions.
Here is a nice simple site that might help:
David & Josiah, thanks for your responses. Like I said, I'm trying to learn all this stuff on my own and sometimes I know I have some dumb questions. What I've been doing is listening to recordings by professional artists of songs I want to learn in order to get the speed of the song correct. I went back and looked at some of my sheet music and indeed there is a number for the speed above the first measure. This is something I had noticed but never asked anyone about. I understood about the beats per measure but I was confused about the relationship it has with the speed of the music. I have no idea why I didn't realize all 4/4 songs are not the same speed. Hey, you live and learn and any day that passes without learning at least one thing new is wasted.
Hi Jesse -

No question is a dumb question. Music is very hard to figure out when you are doing it on your own. It is essentially a language of it's own. The only way to get answers is to ask questions.

If you don't already have one, I would highly recommend that you invest in a metronome. The Matrix MR-600 is my favorite and is available at most music stores or online.

I like this one because you can set the number of beats per minute (bpm) and also set it for 4/4 or 3/4 or 2/4 or 6/8, etc. There are numbers 0, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 on the side. When you choose one of the numbers, a bell and red light will go off at the beginning of each new measure or count.

So for 4/4 time you will get:

bell click click click, bell click click click and red light, green, green, green - and it will keep your timing very clean.

The metronome also has a volume control where you can have it completely silent and just watch the light or super loud. You can use the metronome when you are listening to recordings to help you figure out how fast or slow the song is. At first, this will be hard for you. Just tap your foot to the song and you will get a feel for the regular beat, then set your metronome to your tapping foot.

Until you get a metronome, there is one online -
Thanks for your input Donna. This is a great forum because there are so many knowledgable people who usually give a very prompt, clear and concise answer to every question. I have never seen anyone ridicule another person or a person's level of expertise. I appreciate the links you posted. I recently bought a metronome but I just wasn't sure how to use it correctly.
Donna I have learned a lot in just one week of joining the AG site! I just came across your message regarding the Matrix MR-600 and it sounds wonderful! Currently I'm using a BOSS TU-80 it's a tuner/metronome combo but you can't really hear the metronome when you playing loud. So 100 points for Donna! I will look into purchasing the Matrix MR-600 and I will gift my BOSS TU-80 to deserving beginner guitar student. Again thax Donna!
Hey, Josiah, thanks for the link to the music theory website. I studied piano when I was in high school, so I have a basic knowledge of music theory, but it's always good to have something to refresh my memory. They also have a glossary, which is helpful.
Jesse, you have stumbled upon one of the hardest things any human being can do: Convey what is registering in one sense, without actually using that sense.

How do you describe music, for the eye? If we have no access to our ears, how do we describe what our ears register? It's a real problem, and a real credit to the number of cooking magazines, wine magazines, cigar magazines and, yes, guitar and music magazines out there. How do you describe what this casserole smells like? How do you describe the flavor of a wine or cigar? You can tell a good ad agency from a bad one by reading what they say about their musical clients. Every stomp-box in Guitar Player magazine these days has "Killer Tone!" Well, what in Hell does that mean?

In this case, 4/4 time means that the beats, or the pulses in the music that receive the most emphasis, are arranged four-to-the measure. One-Two-Three-Four, then we start over. Think of young recruits learning to march. "My DI is kinda mean" (1 - 2 - 3 - 4) "Someone pee'd in his canteen!" (1 - 2 - 3 - 4). Just as with fractions, you can get a good argument that this is actually 2/2 time, since there are only two feet involved in the counting, but Mrs. Michaelson always told us that 4/4 = 1 and 2/2 = 1 so therefore 4/4 = 2/2....

Music notation has grown and evolved over the centuries, trying to nail down every nuance of playing music live. We have symbols that mean this note is barely played at all, merely the suggestion of a note, we have symbols that mean the whole piece gets louder, or faster, through this part. We have symbols explaining what key a piece of music is in, answering the question of where our roots and thirds and fifths will be and so on. And of course, on the guitar, we have competing notation, the standard top-line-of-piano "Music" notation and Tablature, or Tab. And just like any religion, in Tab we have all kinds of variations, too.

It's all part of describing what you hear and what you should play. Today we have software that will play back a line of music exactly as it's written, and you'd think that by now we would be able to recreate a recorded piece of music on a staff, with a key signature and a time signature and a few scrambled notes, but if you have ever listened to a computer spit-back a line, you will know why today we still study Django and Chet and the rest.

Remember the old color-TV commercials in the 1970s? "Just look at how much better our Sylvania Color TV is!" And yet, I'm seeing it only as good as it appears on my own old, beat-up Zenith. I never understood how anyone could be convinced to buy a new TV from an ad like that….
I love it, I love it, I want some more of it! Essentially what you just wrote is if it was easy everyone could do. If I've learned anything since I picked up a guitar, it's the fact that each answer to a question only leads to another question, another answer, another question, another answer and on and on. This thing called music may have started out simple with a caveman tapping two sticks together but over time it has gotten pretty complicated and we're left to work with the end product.
here's a video that should help a lot.


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