Time Signature and Note Values Background Information for Teachers and Parents

Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about time signatures, note values, and reading music. The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Time Signature and Note Values. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

Encourage children to explore music! This movie will introduce the time signature and how to read and use it. The movie will introduce quarter, half, and whole notes and explain their note values. Before beginning this topic, we recommend reviewing the Musical Alphabet movie and going through pitch names together. We also recommend listening to a piece of music and clapping along to the beat together.

Present children with a piece of written music or song. Review the parts of a staff together, such as the ledger lines and the treble and bass clefs. Also point out how the music is broken up into lines and the lines are broken into measure. Explain that barlines mark each measure off on a piece of music. Then point out the time signature and explain that a time signature tells about the beat of a piece of music. The top number of the time signature tells how many beats are in one measure. So, for example, in a four-four time signature, there are four beats in one measure. That means you count to four as you play each measure. Together, listen to different songs that are in four-four and count to four to the beat together. If possible, have children follow along on a written piece of music as you play it. Have them count to four out loud and point to each measure as they count. Then explain that the bottom number in a time signature tells which kind of note gets the beat. In four-four, the quarter note gets the beat. (The number four represents a quarter note, the number eight represents an eighth note, and so on.)

Remind children that a musical note tells what pitch to play on an instrument. You may want to show a few musical notes and play the corresponding pitch on an instrument. Then explain that a musical note also tells how long to hold the note for. Show a quarter note and explain that the quarter note gets one beat. Play a piece of music that has several quarter notes, such as the beginning of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Have children follow along and count. In four-four, four quarter notes can fit in a measure. Then show a half note and explain that a half note gets two beats. That means they hold the pitch for two full beats. Play four quarter notes and then two half notes and count along as you play. Help children understand that two quarter notes is equal to one half note. Then show a whole note and explain that a whole note gets four beats. That means they hold the pitch for four full beats. Play four quarter notes, two half notes, and one whole note to help them hear the differences. Guide children to understand that a whole note is equal to two half notes, or four quarter notes.

Help children understand that there are different time signatures. These time signatures help contribute to the way a song feels. For example in three-four, there are three beats per measure and the quarter note gets the beat. Play a song that is in three-four, such as a waltz. How is this song different from a song in four-four such as “Jingle Bells”?

Practice playing easy songs together, and count out loud as you play. If possible, we recommend playing different pieces for children and having them follow along on the sheet music. Have them point to notes as you play them and count along. Encourage children to clap or count along whenever they hear music!