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Simple and Compound Meter

Simple meter (or simple time) is when the beats of a piece of music can be divided into twos, whereas compound meter (compound time) is when the beats divide into threes. This definition of simple and common meter is quite straightforward, but the application of it requires some thought.

Simple Meter

A piece with a time signature of 3/4 has 3 crotchet (quarter note) beats in every bar.
Each crotchet beat can be divided into 2 quavers (eighth notes) and so it is in simple meter or simple time. There are a total of 6 quavers in a bar arranged in twos across 3 beats.

simple meter

Compound Time

On the other hand, a piece that is in 6/8 has the same total of quavers in a bar as 3/4 (6 quavers), but 6/8 implies that the quavers are grouped together in threes to form 2 dotted crotchet beats.
As a result, the piece is in compound meter or compound time.
If you watch someone conducting in 6/8 time then you will see that they will actually be counting “1 – 2” for each bar.

compound meter

Examples of Simple and Compound Meter

The other descriptive words that can be combined with the words “simple” and “compound” are duple, triple and quadruple – these words simply describe whether there are 2, 3 or 4 beats in a measure (bar).

Simple Duple Meter

So, for example simple duple meter may sound complicated but it just means that there are 2 beats (duple) in every bar and each beat can be divided into two (simple).

Simple duple meter
Examples of simple duple time include 2/4, 2/2 and 2/8.

Simple Triple Meter

In simple triple time there are 3 beats (triple) in every bar and each beat can be divided into two (simple).

Simple triple meter
Examples of simple triple time include 3/4, 3/2 and 3/8.

Simple Quadruple Meter

In simple quadruple time there are 4 beats (quadruple) in every bar and each beat can be divided into two (simple).

Simple quadruple meter
Examples of simple quadruple time include 4/4, 4/2 and 4/8.

Compound Duple Meter

Compound duple meter means that there are 2 beats in a bar (duple) and these can be divided into threes (compound).
compound duple meter
Compound duple time always has the number 6 at the top of the time signature.
Examples include 6/8 and 6/4.

Compound Triple Meter

Compound triple meter means that there are 3 beats in a bar (triple) and these can be divided into threes (compound).

compound triple meter
Compound triple time always has the number 9 at the top of the time signature.
Examples include 9/8, 9/2, 9/16 and 9/4.

Compound Quadruple Meter

Compound quadruple meter means that there are 4 beats in a bar (triple) and these can be divided into threes (compound).

compound quadruple meter
Compound quadruple time always has the number 12 at the top of the time signature.
Examples include 12/8 and 12/16.

Simple and Compound Meter in Music Definitions

Here is a summary of meter in music.
There is a link below the images to download a FREE PDF copy of the summary chart.
I hope it helps!
Simple Meter Definitions
Compound Meter Definitions

View and Download Meter in Music Summary Chart