I'm just wondering if when creating a song what's the correct way to time things. For example, I say the "chorus lasts 30 seconds" or the "chorus lasts 8 bars". Would I say this beat that I made a loop on "4 bars" or a loop of "16 beats".

I'm just wondering what's the convention.


I'm just wondering if when creating a song what's the correct way to time things. For example, I say the "chorus lasts 30 seconds" or the "chorus lasts 8 bars"

Either could be correct - or more helpful - in different situations.

If you are mixing down an existing recording and programming in some mix automation, it may be more helpful to think in terms of seconds.

If you are giving some musicians instructions before a performance of a conventional piece with a traditional time signature, it's highly likely that thinking in terms of bars will be more helpful both because it's easier for the performers to count, and also because the duration in seconds may not be known at that point.

If you have composed an avant-garde ambient piece with no obvious beat and no conductor or other band-member providing a count of bars, it might be reasonable to make each performer watch a stopwatch and work in seconds - it would be unusual, of course.

Would I say this beat that I made a loop on "4 bars" or a loop of "16 beats".

Again, it totally depends. If you are working with reference to a machine or a piece of software that only counts beats, 'beats' might be better. If it counts both, 'bars' might be fine. If you are lining the beat up with an existing piece that's notated in bars and beats, 'bars' might be slightly better as it gives a sense of lining your beat up with the bar boundaries.

I'm just wondering what's the convention

None of the terms you've mentioned are unconventional, but each of them is more helpful and relevant in certain contexts.

As it happens, in the musical activity I'm doing at the moment, it makes sense most of the time to think in terms of sample numbers @a sampling rate of 44100Hz. That would be crazy for most purposes, but it's the right thing for this particular context.


How often do you think you might use a stopwatch? That's a ridiculous way to approach it. It will depend crucially on how fast the piece is.

Bars or measures are the the usual units used in music, and if you want to be precise, you use bpm to measure the tempo, which would produce the speed of what was hoping to be played.

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    This is not a ridiculous approach: where music is not a live performance, but part of an ad, a video, a game, etc the duration in seconds is a lot more important than the internal structure. No advertiser will tell you they need x bars of music for their product for example; they'll tell you they need x seconds with some event at this specific time, etc.. – Thomas Oct 22 '18 at 1:30
  • @Thomas - OP asked about 'a song', had what you say been mentioned, it certainly would put a different complexion on it. He didn't. That apart, tracks have been speeded up/slowed down for decades, and nowadays it's easier than ever, so that issue doesn't have to be a problem. – Tim Oct 22 '18 at 7:08

The term "Beats" is usually referring to the individual beats in a measure, in Jazz you would usually use "Bars" which is in classical terms, a "Measure". So using the term "Bars" is really the most used term when referring to whatever grouping of the notes indicated by the time signature, However, "Bars" is interchangeable with "Measures" so it just depends on your preferences (in musical composition, I prefer the term "Measure").


The correct way to TIME anything is in hours, minutes and seconds.

But if you're talking about describing the length of a piece of music, it depends on context. For a TV advert you're mostly worried about the time. For scoring to film or tv you might need to consider 'frames'. If you're scoring a routine for 'Strictly' you may want to consider 'dancers' counts' which can be beats, bars, half-bars... according to style and tempo. If you're making EDM it will doubtless be bars or beats. (Bars aren't always 4 beats of course, even in EDM.)

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