Is there a logic to why, for example, a composer would choose 3/8 or 3/2 over 3/4?

It seems like the n/8 would consume more ink than n/4, or make me look at more stuff at a time (cognitive overload for me). The larger the denominator, the more cramped the score looks.

I see a lot of adagio music with 32nd and even 64th notes, and they are actually slow. Why not write them in n/4. Yes, it'll result in more pages, but I think it will be easier on my eyes?

I also see hollow notes that are supposed to be relatively fast, pieces in n/2 or even n/1. That's tough to read because you'll end up with fast quarter notes that are not beamed in groups of 3, 4, or 6. Why would a composer or engraver want to do this?

If I were to hear something for the first time, I would be shocked to find out that the time signature is something like 12/2 or 4/16.

So tell me, what circumstances would call for 3/8 and not 3/4? 4/2 and not 4/4? Tell me if it's just perspective and that the performer just has to suck it up.

  • 2
    Each of these time signatures has a different feel Jun 14, 2016 at 17:46
  • What exactly does the word "feel" mean in this context? What do each of 3/8, 3/2, and 3/4 convey differently? Jun 15, 2016 at 2:12
  • I closed this question as a duplicate of a nearly identical question that was already asked. The examples and details in the answers though weren't on a very good level though so I put a bounty on it. Hopefully though that question's answers and newly placed bounty you'll get an excellent answer.
    – Dom
    Jun 15, 2016 at 3:08

1 Answer 1


Consider you're walking up the stairs. You could have a lot of small steps or just a handful of huge steps. As you walk up the steps, somebody is trying to match your movements with the drum in front of them.

So maybe it only takes two huge steps to get to the top of your staircase, or to the end of the phrase or the song. What if you have four steps, or maybe 16 steps? It's easier for the drummer to track when to strike a note/beat.

Ideally one is conforming their time signature to the convenience of the performer, and thus there are more natural and less natural fits.

  • I have absolutely no idea what this answer is supposed to mean.
    – Simon B
    Jun 14, 2016 at 20:41
  • It's a visual for breaking down timing resolutions. Perhaps it was lost in translation.
    – sova
    Jun 15, 2016 at 0:30
  • @sova most composers don't view time signatures with the same number of beats this way. I can have each half note, quater note, or eighth note to be any tempo I'd like espically if the time signature remains constant.
    – Dom
    Jun 15, 2016 at 3:02
  • @Dom well, okay. as a modern-day person who is using DAWs to work on music, i abide by BPM or beats per minute. This is different from time signatures but amounts to the same thing: the heart beat of the music
    – sova
    Jun 15, 2016 at 11:14

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