[Dixielandjazz] Timing and tempo

Bill Gunter jazzboard at hotmail.com
Mon Feb 9 17:30:12 PST 2004

Rebecca asks,

>Does the time signature reflect the tempo? or is that an arbitrary thing?

No, the time signature refers to the number of beats in a measure and the 
value of the note which receives one beat.

The tempo tells you the speed at which to play them. It's usually noted at 
the top of the score by a note follow by and equal (=) sign followed by a 
number. The number refers a setting on a metronome which represents the 
numbe of beats per minute. If the tempo is not noted (as in a dixieland band 
where the band is playing without music) then the tempo is set by the leader 
when he counts the tune off. Lawrence Welk did it this way -- "A-one and 

And don't overlook the third bit of information the musician needs . . . the 
key signature. That tells you how many sharps or flats you need to play. 
It's a sort of mathematical puzzle which, if you know the process, tells you 
which note is "do" (as in "do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do") . That's an important 
concept. For example when you sing the Birthday Song do is usually "F".  If 
you are singing the "Star Spangled Banner" do has to be a fairly low note in 
your vocal range or you'll never be able to complete the song without 
turning red in the face.

Respectfully submitted,

Bill "This is probably too much information" Gunter
jazzboard at hotmail.com

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