How to Meter a Song

By Steven J. Miller
Singing with the beat

Musicians must know how to determine the meter of a song if they are going to perform it correctly. Without this basic information, the performer will not know where to place the natural accents and how to create motion that pushes the piece forward. The meter of a piece will help a performer know which beats should be accented and which beats should be weakened. This natural ebb and flow of strong and weak beats is the basis for a successful performance.

Find the Meter of a Song

Tapping the beat

Tap your foot along with the song to find the steady beat.

Tap more forcefully on the beats that feel strong, while tapping lightly on the beats that feel weak.

Take note of which beats are strong and which beats are weak.

Decide if your pattern of strong and weak beats fits comfortably with the song. If it feels awkward, try experimenting with differing patterns of weak and strong beats.

Once you have found a comfortable pattern, add together the first set of strong and weak beats. For instance, 1 strong beat for every 3 weak beats tells you that your meter is in 4.

Determine if the Meter is Simple, Compound or Asymmetrical

Types of Meter

Identify if the meter is in 2, 3, or 4. If it is, then the song is in Simple meter.

Determine if the meter is in 6, 9, or 12. These songs are in Compound meter.

Assess the meter of the song. If the meter changes often, or is a mix of Simple and Compound meter, then the song is said to be Asymmetrical.

Tip

If the beat is faster than you can tap your foot, it is likely that you should cut the meter in half. For instance, a fast 4 might actually be a slow 2.

When determining the beat, make sure that your foot is tapping in a steady manner with no tap being longer than any other. The beat is a steady pulse and not to be confused with the rhythm.

All music has two numbers at the beginning of the piece that resemble a fraction. The top number tells you the number of beats and the bottom number tells you the time value of that beat. You can use the top number to determine the number of beats in the measure, but you still need to listen to the music to determine the strong and weak beats.

Warning

Some songs may be felt correctly in more than one meter. It is up to the musician to determine how to conceptualize the piece.

Some songs that are in 3 may be classified as Compound if they are fast enough.

There is another type of meter referred to as additive meter. This is a meter with a fraction of a beat in each measure. To determine these meters, you typically need to reference a score. These meters are rare and only found in some 20th and 21st Century music.

About the Author

Steven Miller graduated with a master's degree in 2010. He writes for several companies including Lowe's and IBM. He also works with local schools to create community gardens and learn environmentally responsible gardening. An avid gardener for 15 years, his experience includes organic gardening, ornamental plants and do-it-yourself home projects.