[Dixielandjazz] Timing and tempo

John Farrell stridepiano at tesco.net
Mon Feb 9 17:39:07 PST 2004

Rebecca asked :

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

No. Put very simply the time signature's only job is to indicate the beat
(for instance 4/4 means tap your
foot 4 times in each bar, 2/4 means tap it twice, 3/4 means "Go home -
you're in the wrong band" etc.).

Tempo is usually shown by the m.m. marking, which looks like a tiny note
(frequently a
quarter beat but it can be something different) with a figure next to it  -
I won't bother to explain what m.m. means, it isn't important. The figure
indicates the number of beats to be played in one minute.

Instead of using the m.m. system many scores have instructions such as
"Fast", Slow Drag" etc. to indicate more arbitrary tempos (I never did find
out the correct tempo of a slow drag) - somewhere I have a Fats Waller piece
marked "Tempo a la Boy Scouts" !

John Farrell

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