Time Signature 9/4 Explained

By Jade Bultitude
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Time signature 9/4 is a well-know meter used in many different types of music. 9/4 contains measures (or bars) that have 9 quarter-note beats. The beats are grouped into threes, to form 3 strong beats per measure.

We’re going to dive straight into 9/4 time, but you can find more info on what a time signature is in our complete guide to meters.

What is time signature 9/4?

The time signature or meter 9/4 is shown in the music as a 9 above an 4.

This comes before the music starts but after the clef and key signature. The ‘9’ stands for 9 beats per measure and the ‘4’ tells us that each beat is an quarter note. This means that the notes in each measure will add up to 9 quarter notes. The quarter notes are grouped into three sets of three.

See if you can spot the 9 quarter notes in this simple melody.

two measures in 9:4 time signature

Now here it is with the strong beats labelled.

two measures in 9:4 with beats labelled

How to count in 9/4

9/4, like all meters, has a distinctive feel to it. We count 9/4 as 1…&…a…2…&…a…3…&…a. The short piece below contains more complex rhythms with a variety of note lengths. Can you spot where each beat falls?

two complex measures in 9:4

Now here it is with the counting added in.

two complex measures in 9:4 with beats labelled

9/4 is a Compound, Triple Time Signature

There are three broad types of time signature: simple, compound and irregular. Simple time signatures have beats that divide into two. Compound time signatures have beats that divide into three and complex time signatures have a mixture of beats.

In 9/4 each strong beat is a dotted half note and therefore can be divided into THREE quarter notes. This makes 9/4 a Compound Time Signature. It is a Triple time signature because there are THREE strong beats in each measure. To learn more about the differences check out our ultimate guide to time signatures.

The notes below show how each dotted half-note beat in 9/4 time can be divided into three quarter notes.

9:4 time showing trong beats divided into quarter notes

Songs with In Time Signature 9/4

Peter Warlock – Capriol Suite 5.Pieds-en-l’air

Camille Saint-Saëns : Chorale from Third Organ Symphony Finale

Start at 1:50 to listen to the organ play in alternating 9/4 and 6/4 time. Sheet Music for can be found here.

Etienne de Lavaulx- The Guitar Lesson

This piece begins in 9/4 and then adds in passages in 4/4, 6/4 and 10/4.

What’s the difference between 9/4 and 9/8?

9/8 is also a compound meter, as it has two strong beats per measures. Each strong beat is broken down into three eighth notes, making nine eighth notes per measure. This means that two measures of 9/8 with equal one measure 9/4.

9:4 compared to 9:8

As a rough rule, 9/8 is used for faster pieces and 9/4 is used for slower pieces. This is not strictly applied but it holds true for most classical music. At the end of the day it is up to composers and transcribers which notation they want to use.

What is the Difference Between 9/4 and 3/2

On the face of it 9/4 and 3/2 are quite different time signatures. 3/2 is a simple meter and 9/4 is compound. However, they both have three strong beats per measure. This means that if we play three notes per strong beat in 3/2 (by using a triplet), it would sound the same as a measure of 9/4.

comparing 9/4 and 3/2

What next…?

If you want to learn more about time signatures, check out our complete guide to meters.

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Jade is an experienced musician and teacher as well as being the founder of Music Theory Foundations. She has been helping people learn music theory for more than 10 years from pre school children all the way to degree level studies.