I remember when I first started playing music. I didn’t start out reading music, instead I started out playing music by ear. It wasn’t until years later when I got to fifth grade band that I saw a piece of sheet music for the first time. Not only was I learning how to read music when I started band in school, I also had to learn the language that musicians use in a more structured setting. Later when I joined jazz band, I had a question about this. I kept hearing the term “bar.” You may have heard that term to and thought to yourself “How long is a bar in music?”
What is a music bar?
You see, a lot of times musicians in different environments will call the same thing by different names. A bar in music is just another name for a measure. So a typical bar has four beats in each measure.
But, as you know, not all music is written in 4/4 (pronounced “four four”). It can also be called common time, but that term is usually used in school settings.
So a bar, or a measure, has a certain number of beats. In the case of 4/4 time, there are four beats in each measure. In the time signature 3/4, there are only three beats per bar. You can tell how many beats a measure gets by looking at the top number of the time signature.
So if you see a a time signature of 5/4 you know that each bar has five beats.
What does the bottom number mean? For example, in the time signature 6/8 how many beats are in a bar? In the time signature 6/8 each measure has six beats, but you have to count it a little differently than say something like 6/4.
But I’ll cover that in another article.
So, how long is a bar?
Almost 90% of the time, a bar is just four measures. If a musician just tells you “give me four bars” without telling you the time signature, then that means just give them four measures of four beats each (sixteen beats.)
What to read next:
Maybe you already know some musician lingo, but want to know what’s taught in an actual music theory class. You can see some of what I learned in music theory classes here.
Josh is the founder and main author of Songwriter Nation. He has played music for over twenty years and even studied music at university earning a minor in music.