Time signatures

Time signatures indicate the meter of music, and apply to all bars from where they first appear until a subsequent change of time signature. Meter describes the rhythmic pulse of music, and its division into beats and bars.

A time signature is made up of two parts, and can be described using the same mathematical terms used for fractions: numerator on top, and denominator underneath.

The numerator specifies the number of multiples of the duration specified by the denominator. The denominator doubles for every halving of the beat duration: 1 is a whole note (breve), 2 is a half note (minim), 4 is a quarter note (crotchet) and so on. Depending on your settings for time signature style, numerators and denominators can have different appearances.

For example, a 4/4 time signature tells you the bar is made up of four beats, and each of those beats is a quarter note in length. A time signature of 4/2 contains four half notes in each bar, and 4/8 contains four eighth notes (quavers) in each bar. Both 3/4 and 6/8 contain six eighth notes, but it is understood that a 3/4 bar contains three quarter note beats, whereas a 6/8 bar contains two dotted quarter note beats.

Bars are rhythmic groups, divided according to the time signature, and they make following the music much more practical. Notes are beamed differently in different time signatures, again to make the meter clear and easily readable.

By default, time signatures apply to all staves. However, there are some situations, such as in polymetric music, that require some parts to have their own time signature, independently of the rest of the ensemble. You can input time signatures that apply to all staves or only apply to single staves in Dorico Pro.


Beat lengths are fixed across all staves in your project, regardless of the time signature. For example, if you have a 2/4 time signature on one staff and a 6/8 time signature on another staff, then one quarter note in the 2/4 time signature equals one quarter note in the 6/8 time signature, meaning their barlines do not match.