So a bar's duration is measured in beats. A bar's duration can be represented using the whole note, so bar duration in beats is a whole note.

Isn't a 3/2 measure just spilling over? 3 half notes is equal to a bar and a half. What's the explanation?

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    I think you might be thinking of another music theory rule. A whole bar's rest can always be shown with a four-beat rest (whole-note, US; semibreve, UK), no matter what the time-signature. But, as Dom says below, a "whole-note" is only four-beats long when the time-signature equates to four crotchet (quarter) beats; i.e. 4/4, 2/2, 8/8 (and yes, I guess 16/16!!) – Bob Broadley Oct 7 '14 at 18:54
  • See here: music.stackexchange.com/q/24140/9198 – Bob Broadley Oct 7 '14 at 19:12

A bar's duration can be represented using the whole note

No, not always! This is the incorrect assumption you're making.

A bar's 'duration' depends on the time signature. So, in a standard 4/4 bar, the bar is 4 quarter notes long. (4 * 1/4...see where this is going?)

Alternatively, in a 3/2 bar, the bar is 3 half notes long, or 3 * 1/2!

So, whilst a full 4/4 bar would look like this:

44 bar

A full 3/2 bar would look more like this:

32 bar

Or alternatively, could be filled with a single, dotted whole note.

32 whole bar


A whole note takes up a full measure in 16/16, 8/8, 4/4, and 2/2 time only. A whole note has the value of 4 quarter notes or 2 half notes. Since how common 4/4 time is (it is even also referred to as common time) it makes sense that the notes name line up with the use in 4/4.

In 3/2 the whole measure is represented by a dotted whole note (i.e. a whole note plus a half note) as seen below.

enter image description here

There are notes bigger then a whole note for example there is a double whole note that has the value of 8 quarter notes. This note would be used to fill a full measure in 4/2 as shown below.

enter image description here

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    also known as the breve. – Neil Meyer Oct 9 '14 at 15:54
  • Breves are (were) twice as long as our far more common semibreves. Don't get a lot of airing these days.That's how the name came about! Ironic considering that 'breve' means short... – Tim Aug 13 '16 at 10:39
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    @Tim Well, a breve is a half of a longa, so it is short :) – yo' May 8 '18 at 20:10
  • Note, however, that the full rest can often mean either 4/4 rest or a full bar rest; this is an exception. – yo' May 8 '18 at 20:11
  • @yo' - I know a longa is longer still, but that hardly makes a breve short. Shorta, maybe... – Tim May 8 '18 at 21:37

The US terms whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note, etc have some obvious advantages over the UK terms: semibreve, minim, crotchet, quaver, semiquaver, etc but they make most sense only in 4/4 time or maybe also 2/2. In 3/4 or 6/8, the whole note is too big for a single measure. In 5/4 and 6/4, it is not big enough.

The relative lengths of the notes are still indicated by their names but the "whole" becomes misleading beyond 4/4 and 2/2.

As Bob says above, there is a special rule that a whole measure rest may be indicated by a whole note rest but only applies to rests.


3/2 is a "simple triple time signature"simple means every beat is made up of 2 beats or each of these beats can be broken into two beats and triple because of containing 3 half notes in a measure, meaning there are 3 half or minim notes in a measure. That means all the notes in each measure must add up to 3 half notes, not more than or less than that. Any combination of notes can be used as long as they add up to 3 half notes, such as; one half note, two quarter notes,two eighth notes and one quarter note rest or so on.

In time signatures with 4 as the bottom number, such as 4/4 , 3/4 etc. time, the half note is two beats long. However, when 2 is used as the bottom  number a minim is 1 beat long.As we know top number in a time signature says how many beats are to be contained in each bar that is 3 and bottom number the note denomination,which represents one beat that is the minim or half-note.So 3/2 can be interpreted  as three  minim beats per bar and must be counted as 1 2 3 but will never be counted as 1 (2) 3 (4) 5 (6) because each half note gets 1 beat here.enter image description hereenter image description here


You are all wrong! ok.. so 3/2 time signature means that there are 3 GROUPS of 2 Count notes otherwise known as minims. Okay so this means:

  • Group 1: 2 count notes
  • Group 2: has 2 count notes
  • and Group 3: has 2 count notes

Never less than 2 counts never more. It is simple 3 Groups with each group with 2 count rests. Can be as many different notes but they HAVE to equal 2 counts.

Example: You can have in Group 1: a minim In group 2: 2 half rests and a crotchet In group 3: 2 crotchets

and continue on! This is the correct way. I am a grade 4 in Piano theory and a Grade 7 in Piano Prac.

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    Can't see how the other answers are wrong, whereas yours is right. Please bear in mind that some of the guys who post answers have many, many years of experience playing and teaching, with quite a few music degrees between them, and the propensity to research carefully before posting their best answers on this hallowed site. – Tim Aug 13 '16 at 10:45
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    Not really, Hayley! Crotchets are not always "counts". In 3/2 minims are the "count". And although the basic grouping in 3/2 is "minim, minim, minim" (unlike 6/4, which "adds up" the same but has basic grouping "dotted minim, dotted minim") real music often messes about with this grouping. What's "piano theory"? Isn't there just one set of theory exams whatever instrument you play? And why are you 3 grades behind in theory anyway? :-) – Laurence Payne Aug 13 '16 at 19:03
  • Ouch. Yikes. I'm for giving you a break, Hayley. A spirited contribution: sometimes wrong, but always certain. – Areel Xocha Jul 31 '17 at 12:42

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