Identifying Meter By Ear

As we’ve already explored, when you’re listening to music, you likely instinctively move your body—or even just imagine doing so. That’s a very useful instinct that, when further developed, can help you determine what metric sense is intended in a piece of music without looking at its notation. Determining meter by ear in this way will be helpful when we want to translate it into notation or respond to it through playback or improvisation.

This process has many similarities with the skill of setting up a meter internally, described in the previous section. The primary difference is that before we started with a goal for a meter and worked toward creating it; here, we start with an already-sounding metric sense and figure out how to describe it.


Once you’ve followed these steps, you’ve found the beat, determined the length of the measure, and specified the divisions as either simple or compound. In a future section, we’ll need to take it one more step and identify a possible time signature.

Activity: Determining Meter by Ear

Goal: Use physical motion or imagined physical motion to find a beat, measure, and division in sounding music, and describe their relationships.

Instructions: Listen to the following songs. Then work through the steps in the text above to identify the beat, measure, and division. Once you have found these and determined their relationships to each other, describe the meter (duple/quadruple or triple, and simple, compound, and/or swing). Optionally, use the table here to determine which time signature top number is most appropriate for the music.


Suggest a song for this playlist!



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Foundations of Aural Skills Copyright © 2022 by Timothy Chenette is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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