Can someone explain to me what meter is and how to change and control it? Im a beginner songwriting and im not sure if meter refers to feet per line or if it refers to duple, triple, quadruple, simple, or compound concepts. Someone please help me understand meter :/

2 Answers 2


Meter refers to the grouping of beats into bars. It is indicated at the beginning of a composition with the time signature. The top number represents the number of beats and the bottom tells us of the note value, which can be whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes and so one. Meter can be simple, compound or complex. I

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The first line one is a triple meter, which is subdivided into quarter notes, this there are three quarter notes. The second is also in triple meter, so it has three half notes, as the note is subdivided into half notes. The last two are quadruple, and thus, they have three quarter and half notes respectively. Notice, they are simple triple and quadruple as they are in beats of 2, 3 or 4.

Compound meter indicates any meter which is a multiple of 2, 3 or 4

enter image description here

In this picture, as you can see, in 6/8, 6 is a multiple of 2, so it is a compound duple meter. And as you can see, the note is subdivided into eighth notes, and so, 3 eighth notes = a dotted quarter notes. Which makes 6 quarter notes in total. Same for the 9/8, a compound triple and 12/8, a compound quadruple, have 9 and 12 eighth notes or 3 and 4 dotted quarter notes respectively.

Complex meters abide the same rules, the only difference being they are not really in duple, triple or quadruple like compound or complex meters. They are meters like 5/8. In this case, you have 5 eighth notes in each beat, but it is not a compound meter as it is not divisible by 2, 3 or 4. Same for 11/16. It has eleven 16th notes in each beat, but are not divisible. Those are less common than simple or compound meters.

  • 1
    Meter is also a concept in poetry, and, given the presence of "feet per line" in the question, it would make sense to discuss that as well to clear up any confusion.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 19, 2020 at 0:53
  • Sorry, I have no knowledge of poetry. I took a music theory and history class, and that is how I came to know about meter, but and time signature. My knowledge about poetry is next to none. Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 1:01

To add on to Newbieviolinist's excellent answer, I also want to mention the 'feel' of the music. Meter isn't an arbitrary construct that let's us mathematically divide up the music; it serves an important function in defining how a song sounds.

Consider the following pieces of music, and presume they're at the identical tempo of bpm quarter note = 90: enter image description here

enter image description here

There are the 12 G notes in each case, and they are played over the same span of time. If you were to play both pieces at the same time, each note would be played in perfect sync: note 1 of the top piece would sound at the exact same time as note 1 of the bottom piece, and so on.

The difference lies in the pulse of the music. In the each piece, a musician would typically play the first beat of each measure stronger than the rest. This note would be played physically louder. So the difference is now: Top piece: LOUD soft soft soft... Bottom piece: LOUD soft soft LOUD...

Not only would the musician playing the piece acknowledge this pulse, but the composer writing it would too. A common pattern in song writing is to play a chord beneath the melody. Often there will be one chord per measure, which means the start of a new measure will be indicated by a new chord. In this way it's not the louder playing of the music that indicates pulse, but a shift in the underlying harmony.

The final way I can think of to conceptualise meter is: "the bit you tap along to". When I am tapping along to pop music, which is very often 4/4, I will clap on the first beat of the measure and tap the next three. Or sometimes I'd clap 1 and 3, and tap 2 and 4, depending on the song. The 3/4 meter is used in waltzes. When I sing a waltz, I sing different beats on different syllables. "DAW da da, DAW da da, DAW da da, etc".

In summary: meter tells you where the strong and soft beats are.

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