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Discover what simple and compound COMPASSES are in MUSIC

What are simple and compound bars

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On a daily basis we listen to many musical genres, each one has its own characteristics that make us recognize what type of music we are listening to. Although we are used to certain types of music, it is very interesting to know that the world of this art is very diverse. We will be very used to hearing the words "rock", "waltz" or "cumbia" among thousands more and to Sometimes, even though we recognize the concept, we don't know what makes a music different from other.

In this article by a PROFESSOR we will talk about one of the crucial elements to categorize music. Since one of the most obvious is rhythm, we will learn about the simple and compound bars which are closely related to rhythm and musical diversity.

You may also like: What are musical ligatures and what are they for?


  1. How music is measured
  2. What is a musical compass
  3. What is the metric in music
  4. Time signature: simple and compound

How music is measured.

Music, despite being an art, is closely related to mathematics

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because its entire structure depends on the relationship that all its elements have in each other, and on how they interact with each other. When we need to understand things, it is very convenient to measure them. This allows us to understand its dimensions and lengths, study it in parts to later understand the whole as a whole.

You will notice that many musicians or dancers are counting aloud or with gestures when they want to follow the music, this is a way of measuring the moments in which we must play a note or take a certain step (in the case of dancers). This is because, in order to read and write music and then understand it, it is very useful to divide it into parts. We call the musical unit with which we divide a song or work compass.

What is a musical compass.

The compass is the musical unit with which we divide a song or a work. Thanks to this unit we can know how long a part or all of it lasts. In the staff we recognize a measure when the staff is divided by a vertical line.

In a measure we can write only a certain amount of notes and this amount depends on a number that is written at the beginning of the staff, which looks like a fraction and tells us what we call "metrics". Thanks to this number we can know how many notes fit in one measure and also how to follow the music.

What are simple and compound bars - What is a musical measure

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What is the metric in music.

As we already mentioned, the metric tells us the number of notes and duration of the same that we can include in a compass. This helps us to know how keep score of a measure.

In musical writing the meter it is indicated as a fraction. We call the number at the top the numerator and it tells us the pulse. The pulse tells us how many “beats” there will be in a measure. We call the number at the bottom the denominator and it tells us the base musical figure. The combination of both numbers gives us to understand, not only the quantities of a measure, but the "Natural accents."

The accents They are when a note stands out in intensity, intensity or volume from the rest. Rhythm itself is a sequence of sounds one after the other, but when we add accents, we managed to give a new meaning to a rhythm. Even if a rhythm is made up of the same number of notes, we can notice that by placing accents on one or another note, we change the way we perceive a rhythm. For example: the waltz. The waltz has a metric of ¾. This means that the measure has 3 notes, and the 4 of the denominator indicates that they are quarter notes. So the way to count a measure of ¾ is: “1, 2, 3. - 1, 2. 3." etc. The natural accent is found in the first beat and is so important that it is precisely this way of counting that makes us recognize a waltz.

Since music is a dynamic art, accents are extremely important so that it is not monotonous. This also allows it to be diverse and it is from this principle, like others, that we manage to have so many different musical styles.

What are simple and compound bars - What is meter in music

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Time signature: simple and compound.

To better understand simple and compound bars, we have to take into account a series of key aspects, such as the different systems that exist in music:

  • Binary system: a round is equivalent to 4 quarter notes. A quarter note is equivalent to 2 eighth notes. An eighth note is equivalent to 2 semi-eighth notes... etc. The division in music that we are most used to is by division of halves (2 units that form 1). We call this system the binary system. However, there is another type of system that is not based on halves but on thirds.
  • Ternary system: for example dotted figures. This is when in writing a dot is placed next to the head of a musical note. This means that the note lasts its value, plus ½ value of itself. In other words, for example, if we have a dotted quarter note and a quarter note equals 2 eighth notes, a dotted quarter note equals 3 eighth notes. We call this system based on the subdivision of 3 the ternary system.

Knowing this, we can already mention that there are two types of time signature: simple compass Y compound compass. In the simple measure, the notes of each beat have a binary base, while in the compound measure, each subdivision of the beat has a ternary base.


  • Time signature of ¾. It has 3 times, but its base is a quarter note, of binary classification. Therefore, the ¾ is a simple measure.
  • Time signature of 6/8. It has 6 beats, with an eighth note base (8). Its keystroke is subdivided into 3 and 3 eighth notes. This means that we would have a total of 2 quarter notes. By using this figure, we know that it is then a compound compass.

Examples of categorization

This is the categorization of some bars:

  • Simple Bars: 2/2, 3/2, 4/2, 2/4, ¾, 4/4, 4/8
  • Compound Compasses: 6/8, 9/8, 12/8, 6/4, 9/4, 12/4
What are simple and compound bars - Time signature: simple and compound

Image: Let's Make Music

Musical writing is a guide, what is important and what makes a musician great is his ability to interpret what is written and bring it to life. With this new knowledge you already have a better approach to understand how to recognize or interpret different forms of music, starting with something as important in its structure as the type of compass.

We hope you have enjoyed this article by a PROFESSOR and we invite you to share your comments with us.

If you want to read more articles similar to What are simple and compound bars, we recommend that you enter our category of Musical language.

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