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In a time signature (4/4 for example), does the / have a term or a name?

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    Sometimes he goes by / or just 47, but most people call him "slash".
    – Dave
    Dec 18, 2014 at 21:08
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    Just wondering: Is it never called fraction bar/line/stroke in English? Dec 19, 2014 at 17:06

4 Answers 4

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In Printed Music

In typeset music, time signatures are usually not written with a line between the numerator and denominator (at least no more of a line than is already there).

time signatures

In Text

However, when writing text about music, it is an acceptable convention to use a slash to separate the numerator and denominator. See A Style and Usage Guide to Writing About Music, by Thomas Donahue, p. 40.

In running text, a time signature (or meter) may be written as a fraction with full-size baseline numerals (no superscripts or subscripts) separated by a slash, such as "4/4" or "6/8."

Technically, in typography there is a division between two similar slash-like characters, the solidus and the slash, with the former being used to designate fractions in text (What is the difference between “solidus” and “slash”?). However, in common usage, these symbols are often merged into a single "slash" character. Since the above text references a similarity to fractions, it is likely that a typographer would insist on using the solidus in this case.

So, unless you're engaging in some typography, saying 'slash' instead of 'solidus' should be completely acceptable (and probably more widely understood).

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    How would one know? They're always printed centered so that there already is a line there anyway. Dec 19, 2014 at 7:56
  • True, of course, but this doesn't answer the question about what the / symbol is called in contexts where it is used. It's like answering "What's the name of that stringed instrument they use in rock bands?" with "In brass bands, there are no string instruments." Dec 19, 2014 at 16:01
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    Yes, I took a gamble that the OP was actually intending to ask about printed music, in which there is no such symbol, as opposed to some kind of text-based notation format. It wasn't directly specified either way in the question, so I took what I thought was the most likely reading (which was apparently correct). You could even say I was... reading between the lines. Dec 19, 2014 at 16:12
  • @CalebHines Either or; I didn't know there was a difference ;) Dec 20, 2014 at 0:59
  • I went ahead and added a section about text, just to cover all the bases. Dec 20, 2014 at 1:24
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Yes. In the treble clef it's called the B line, whilst in the bass clef it's the D line. In alto and tenor it's different... Aw, c'mon, it's nearly Christmas. I'm working from the heading question!

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In short, no. That slash is just a shorthand for typing; that's not how time signatures are typically notated.

Some purists would even say that 4/4 is not a valid way to notate a time signature, because it implies equivalence between key signatures that represent the same fractional value. However, this notation has become somewhat accepted in print because there is not a particularly easy way to type two numbers stacked vertically.

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  • Whether or not it's a shorthand has no bearing on whether or not it has a name. Dec 19, 2014 at 16:03
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I's called a solidus. Less formally (like in ASCII character names), it is a (forward) slash. But the name is not all that important since it is not an actual part of the notation but only occurs when you are writing about it. Incidentally, the notation program LilyPond accepts \time 4/4 for writing the time signature for, well, 4/4.

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