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How long is a bar of music?

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βˆ™ 2012-08-10 20:33:16

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Depends on the tempo and the time signatureThe TempoThe tempo of music defines how many beats per minute it is played at. This may be very fast; 200 bpm, or very slow; 60 bpm.

The tempos are often given by Italian words like:

  • Prestissimo - extremely fast (200bpm+)
  • Allegro - fast (120-168 bpm)
  • Adagio - slow (66-76 bpm)

There are many more such words.

You need the "beats per minute" before you can know how long a bar of music is.

Time SignatureThe time signature determines how many beats there are in a measure, or bar, of music. In common time, also known as four-four (4/4) time, there are four beats per measure. In waltz time, or three-four (3/4) time, there are only three beats per measure. (The top number determines the number of beats.)

Some confusion arises when the top number of a time signature is a multiple of three (i.e., 6, 9, 12, etc.), not including three, itself. In those cases, many musicians divide the top number by three, which determines the number of beats per measure, so a tune written in 6/8 time, for example, will have two beats per measure.

Putting it togetherSo, a bar of music marked with:
  • a tempo of Prestissimo with 4 beats per bar could be around ~1.2 seconds.
  • a tempo of Allegro with 4 beats per bar could be around ~2 seconds.
  • a tempo of Adagio with 4 beats per bar could be around ~3.6 seconds.
  • a tempo of Prestissimo with 3 beats per bar could be around ~0.9 seconds.
  • a tempo of Allegro with 3 beats per bar could be around ~1.5 seconds.
  • a tempo of Adagio with 3 beats per bar could be around ~2.7 seconds.

The length of a bar in seconds is given by :

( Number of beats per bar / tempo in beats per minute ) * 60

Side Note:

Some composers (Federico Mompou comes to mind, but there are many others) occasionally write very interesting pieces with no bar lines. Sometimes there is an inherent rhythm implied in the notation that guides the performer, and at other times it is less clear how a piece should be approached.

2012-08-10 20:33:16
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