The meter of a piece of music is the arrangment of its rhythms in a repetitive pattern of strong and
weak beats. This does not necessarily mean that the rhythms themselves are repetitive, but they
do strongly suggest a repeated pattern of pulses. It is on these pulses, the beat of
the music, that you tap your foot, clap your hands, dance, etc.
Some music does not have a meter. Ancient music, such as Gregorian chants; new music, such
as some experimental twentieth-century art music; and Non-Western music, such as some native
American ute music, may not have a strong, repetitive pattern of beats. Other types of music,
such as traditional Western African drumming, may have very complex meters that can be dificult
for the beginner to identify.
But most Western music has simple, repetitive patterns of beats. This makes meter
a very useful way to organize the music. Common notation, for example, divides
the written music into small groups of beats called measures, or bars. The lines
dividing each measure from the next help the musician reading the music to keep track of the rhythms.
A piece is assigned a time signature that tells
the performer how many beats to expect in each measure, and what type of note should get one beat. (For more on reading time signatures, please see Time Signature.)
Conducting25 also depends on the meter of the piece; conductors use dierent conducting patterns
for the dierent meters. These patterns emphasize the dierences between the stronger and weaker
beats to help the performers keep track of where they are in the music.
But the conducting patterns depend only on the pattern of strong and weak beats. In other
words, they only depend on “how many beats there are in a measure”, not “what type of note gets a
beat”. So even though the time signature is often called the “meter” of a piece, one can talk about
meter without worrying about the time signature or even being able to read music.