Part of understanding how a ryhthm will sound involves understanding the stresses of the rythm - based on the meter or Time Signature of the piece.
All music uses a Time Signature. The time signature of a piece gives you a little information about the piece you are about to play. Whilst there are many time signatures, you'll most often see these:
In addition to these simple time signatures - you'll see some more esoteric ones like these:
We show time signatures as two numbers stacked. The top number tells you the amount of beats in one bar - the bottom tells you the duration of those notes. Together, that tells you how long a bar of music will be.
So - 2/4 means two notes of a quarter note duration, 6/8 means six notes of an eighth note duration to fill one measure.
4/4 Time Signature
This is the most common Time Signature by far. In fact, it is so common that you'll often see it depicted by a large C instead of the numbers. The C stands for common and looks like this:
To show how the time signature determines the length of a bar, here's some examples:
Simple 4/4 Beat Pattern
Medium 4/4 Pattern
Complex 4/4 Pattern
3/4 Time Signature
3/4 is a lot less common and tends to get used in older pieces of music and waltzes. The way that the stressed beat falls makes it perfect for the rhythm of a waltz or a ballad.
Songs like Happy Birthday, The Times They Are A-Changin and Greensleeves are in 3/4.
If you listen to the beat in those songs - you can really hear how the rhythm stress changes the entire feel of the song.
Other Time Signatures
Time signatures changes the feeling of the track - the strong beats push the track forward. In a 3/4 measure, we have 1 as the strong beat, whereas 2 and 3 are not strong. In 6/8 measure, we have 1 as strong beat and 4 as less strong beat; the other beats aren't emphasized.
Take a listen to this song by Pink Floyd called 'Money'
This song has a completely different feel to most other songs - mainly due to the time signature and stresses of the beat.
Complex time signatures do exist - they sound quite strange to the unaccustomed ear!
Here's a couple of very famous examples.
A time signature is a handy device that lets you know where to emphasize a beat in a rhythmic pattern to shift the feeling of a piece of music. If you'd like any further help with theory - let me know! I'm always looking for local and online students. Please get in contact with me to arrange a lesson.