# Is it true that cut time means "play twice as fast as written"?

I was just reading an e-book and saw this sentence which really confused me:

"Played twice as fast as written" - This isn't what cut time actually means right, or are there situations where cut time means exactly that?

I thought cut time is basically just 2/2 time signature, but the speed would still depend on the bpm and the note durations...

• I see the answers. And I get what they are saying. But... if you change nothing but the time signature to 4/4 and then played it would not sound twice as fast as written in cut time?
– b3ko
Commented May 22, 2019 at 20:58
• @b3ko - Nah, it would only sound just as fast. You didn't change the tempo, after all. Commented May 22, 2019 at 23:50
• Related question Commented May 23, 2019 at 13:45
• Cut time seems to suggest to the time signature, which tells us how to sub-divide time in music. This tells us to count 2 instead of 4, it doesn't tell us how fast to play BUT it does mean there's twice as many crotchets between each count than you're expecting, if you've been playing in 4/4. So I'd guessthat's what it means. Commented May 24, 2019 at 8:32
• The excerpt has no metronome marking for tempo, so "twice as fast as written" is meaningless. Cut time simply means two beats per measure, and a half note gets one beat. Commented May 24, 2019 at 21:00

It would be more accurate to say that cut time "will sound twice as fast as the same notes played in 4/4 at the same tempo". That's essentially what they're trying to get across.

But even that wouldn't really be accurate. Cut time is a duple meter, 4/4 is a quadruple meter. The difference is subtle, but it's still a difference.

• That would depend on what you mean by "same tempo." I would argue, fro example, that half-note = 120bpm is not the same tempo as quarter-note = 120 bpm. Instead, half-not = 120bpm means quarter-note = 240bpm. Commented May 23, 2019 at 3:59
• @trlkly - tempo in my answer means beats per minute, not notes per minute. One beat in cut time = one half note; one beat in 4/4 = one quarter note. If both tempi are defined as (beat) = 120, the quarter notes in cut time will = 240. If the tempo is defined by a term, an Allegro cut time may not be exactly twice as fast as an Allegro 4/4, but it will be close. Commented May 23, 2019 at 4:20
• Which is what I thought you meant. I just thought you might want to be explicit in your answer. You could change that to, for example, "at the same beats per minute." Or, if we're sure the comments will never be deleted, addressing it in your comments is probably fine, too. I'm used to SEs where they will wipe the comments without notice, so I put everything in the Answer. Commented May 26, 2019 at 2:14

That sentence "Played twice as fast as written" indicates that someone must have a misunderstanding. Someone who probably thinks that quarter notes are supposed to be played at a certain speed. That person would need more knowledge and experience with both tempo markings and different kinds of time signatures.

I suppose you could say that in the beginning when you learn your first note values and make your first exercises with the values you do get used to think of quarter notes as indicating some basic speed. You need to crawl before you can walk so to speak. But you certainly better learn to walk before you write a work book on the matter.

It may be that the e-book used the same notation example written in 4/4 earlier, and is indicating to play this version faster?

You are correct that the time signature is not the indicator for tempo. There is an old tradition of using Alla Breve to indicate the piece is a faster tempo, but current practice is to use tempo markings. The cut time choice changes the feel of the music because of the strong beat.

• I thought the same, but couldn't find a 4/4 version earlier on. Yes, in 4/4 the 1st and 3rd beat would be the strong ones, but 3 would be less strong than 1. In 2/2 you just have strong - weak - strong - weak right? So if you would double the note values of a 4/4 and make it 2/2, you would get basically a stronger 3rd beat?
– Andy
Commented May 22, 2019 at 19:46
• yes, but I've seen it used where the melody seems like it is in 4 but there isn't a second strong beat, so you get a strong - weak-weak-weak sound. Commented May 23, 2019 at 0:45

No, it's not current... and it doesn't really make much sense. (How fast is it "written"?)

Your assertion that time signatures do not dictate tempo is correct. Certain meters might imply faster tempi (6/4 is probably going to be used for slower pieces, and 12/16 is usually seen in fast pieces like gigues) but those are general usages, not requirements.

In a simple sense, it is correct. "Whatever tempo you have in mind, this is twice as fast as that". This works on the assumption that most people are used to the quarter note being the beat, which happens to be true.

But it basically means that the pulse of the song will be on the half-notes. If someone was standing there waving a baton in front of you, they would be counting the half-notes, and counting two beats per measure (2/2 time as you said).

If it says "moderato" on top of the page it would refer to the speed of the half-notes and if there is a bpm marking it would also refer to the half-notes, although it's common to make this explicit by writing "half-note = tempo" (see top two examples here http://www.janvanbiezen.nl/bachfig01.gif).

This is common in marching band music where writing in 2/4 would look awkward (I guess?).

The e-book was trying to contrast two different meters, 2/2 to 4/4, kind of assuming that the reader might not notice or understand the difference at all. They were trying to provide a simplified first explanation of an unfamiliar meter symbol.

They meant "Crossing the C has the effect that the conductor's hand will start moving in cycles of two beats rather than four beats and you players will have to play twice faster to keep up."

Except that there's no conductor around which makes the entire difference more abstract to formulate and less constrained to execute.

Adding to the other answers, I played in a group for a few years that liked to take music "a bit" faster than normal, for stylistic purposes, and we would often count 4/4 music in 2 (or 3/4 music in 1) because it was just easier for our leader to count off the tempo (from the piano, often by nodding) when counting at a slower pace and not give herself whiplash. But even if we were counting 4/4 in two, we still played it as if in 4/4 (giving it 4 beats per measure instead of two).

Of cousre, this was the same band leader that would ask us to play in the style of "bad 80's rock music", so perhaps she wasn't always giving us instructions in the most formal music theory lingo possible (although she did know her theory as well).

The problem I have with "played twice as fast as written" is that it ignores the stylistic difference of 4/4 played twice as fast as 2/2. For beginners, this may not matter as much, but it is still there, and we shouldn't confuse them.