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Defining half-time, double-time, cut time, and "feel"

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I've seen a lot of confusion about the definitions of half-time, double-time, and cut time in music theory, so here it is in a nutshell:

Half-time doubles the tempo, because note values are cut in half, so a half note is played as a quarter note, which is half as long. This makes the tempo twice as fast.

Double-time halves the tempo, because note values are doubled, so a quarter note is played as a half note, which is twice as long. This makes the tempo half as fast.

It only seems like a contradiction if you mistake note values for tempo!

Cut time is Alla breve, notated by a C with a vertical line through it after the time signature. It's just a change in the time signature, where the number of beats per measure (top number) and the division interval (bottom number) are both cut in half, so 4/4 becomes 2/2. It only affects the way notation is read, not played, therefore it does not affect tempo. It's useful sometimes for fast, simplistic charts, like for marching bands - it gives the musicians half the number of measures they need to read.

In addition, these terms have nothing at all to do with the "feel" of a piece. A feel is subjective. Tempo is not. Tempo is an exact speed at which to play.

When a drummer talks about "feel" they are not referring to tempo, they're referring to what the backbeat feels like to the listener. So when they talk about a half-time or double-time feel, they are not talking about tempo in the slightest.

So, to recap: half-time is twice as fast, double-time is half as fast. Cut time is just for reading and has nothing to do with tempo, and neither does the "feel" of a beat.

I hope this helps clear up the confusion!

Edited by Paul Kurzweil
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Very good information.  I have a question... Let's say the song goes into "half-time feel" for 8 bars and then goes back to "normal" feel.  What do I write on a chart to indicate to the musicians that the feel is going back to "Normal"

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You can change the time signatures, the note values, or you could double the tempo marking or simply write "half time feel" so reversing that would be a matter of reversing whichever option you took including indicating "original feel". There are probably conventions to this when publishing but I'd indicate stuff in a manner the group would understand.

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Ok so is it me, or are the terms half time and double time  perhaps one of the most misrepresented terms in music?

I've read the original post by Paul K above in texts, in music classes and occasionally elsewhere...BUT on the street, I hear a lot of musicians call out "double time" on the fly in performance and we start playing twice as fast (which technically would be half time, or am I wrong?)

The video below is an example of the "street" version I'm familiar with.  So what are the correct terms and does it even matter if a large number of musicians are gonna call out "double time" in order to get us to play twice as fast? 😁



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