When you have a 4/4 time signature you typically accentuate beats "1" and (minorly) "3" for every measure. On a piano, what does that mean technically? Is beat "1" just louder or is it also a (little) bit longer than the written note?

Background: I am feeding a string of midi notes to a sampled piano (programmatically) and want to add the "feeling" of a time signature...

3 Answers 3


On the piano we really only have loudness to work with for this sort of emphasis; other instruments may additionally use other emphasis for beats, but not typically duration. There may be styles and interpretations that mess with the durations of notes on various beats but they are not denoted by the time signature.


I think the word technically is perhaps the wrong one in this case, maybe physically would be a better one.

One of the big things that Piano players strive for is evenness in tone. Whenever a piano run is put together it's more about the phrases they're playing than the time signature, so say for example you have a 16th note run that was in a grouping of 9 notes, then 7 notes. The 'loudness' and attack might subtly happen on the 1st note of each group, wherever they might fall.

The generic theorybook definition for 4/4 will say that 1 is the strong beat and that 3 is the strong, yet weaker than 1 beat. This is more to do with the way we perceive time signatures in our heads, and emphasising your notes on these beats creates a more solid feeling to the music. However

In Rag time, the emphasis is on the 2 and 4, but for a general sense of time signature you should be fine doing a blanket 1 and slightly 3 :)

As for how much to emphasise by, that will take some experimentation if you're doing it on a computer program.


In any time-signature, beat one is emphasised.Often subtly,but still a little more than the other beats. In 4/4 beat 3 is, as you state, a bit louder than 2 and 4. In 6/8 beat 4 is a bit louder than 2,3,5&6. This is generally the way folks can 'feel' the beat. I'm talking general pop music here - listen to Stravinsky, et al, and it can all change.One rarely stays longer on beat 1 in a bar of any time signature.

Check out QUANTISING - in recordings, etc., artists do play a bit early or a bit late, often not on purpose ! Digital machines have the facility to move the 'bad' notes one way or another, by a selected amount, to be back in time.

Having said all of that, some songs, and some genres of music, will specifically push or pull each bar (lead obviously by beat 1 ) on purpose, to create a different feeling to the pieces - I suppose this is the very opposite to quantising. A drummer, for instance, may be asked to play a song 'on the beat','early', or 'late'.

  • Thx! I will definitely check out quantizing.
    – qollin
    Oct 30, 2013 at 8:03
  • Beat one is not always emphasized. 4/4 rock often emphasizes beats two and four.
    – user28
    Mar 25, 2015 at 18:38
  • @MatthewRead - having played rock ( and lots of others) for the last 50 odd years, I feel that beat 1 is emphasized by the bass drum and bass guitar at least. Beats 2 and 4 may sound emphasized with the snare drum hits, but that's more like a back beat. Listen to the bass - usually 1 and 3 or all 4. Rarely on 2 and 4. Maybe with reggae.
    – Tim
    Mar 25, 2015 at 20:45

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