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Understanding Cut Time

Cassi Falk  /  Rhythm Theory / Jan 29

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What is cut time? This beginner lesson will explain how to play piano in cut time, a common time signature you’ll definitely run into during your musical travels.

Cut time is a time signature that essentially means two half notes per measure (or the equivalent of that in notes or rests).

You may see it represented as either a “C” with a line through it or as 2/2.

Cut time symbol: C with a vertical line down the middle.
Cut time time signature. Treble clef with 2/2 on grand staff.

So what makes this time signature different from common time or 4/4? After all, both time signatures can fit four quarter notes per measure!

The difference is that in 2/2, the beats feel larger.

In common time, the beats follow a strong-weak-medium-weak feeling; in cut time, it’s strong-weak strong-weak.

Four quarter notes in cut time (2/2).

STRONG-WEAK STRONG-WEAK

Count: 1 and 2 and

Four quarter notes in common time (4/4).

STRONG-WEAK-MEDIUM-WEEK

Count: 1 2 3 4

How It Works

Cut time can be confusing if you’re used to quarter notes equaling 1 beat.

So, it’s time to reset your brain! Start seeing half notes as equaling 1 beat. Everything kind of “halves” like this:

  • Half note = 1 beat. Feels like a quarter note does in 4/4 time.
  • Quarter note = 1/2 beat. Feels like an eighth note does in 4/4/ time.
  • Eighth note = 1/4 beat. Feels like sixteenth notes in 4/4 time.

In a way, notes are “cut” in half from their value in 4/4!

🔥🎹 HOT TIP! If you want to learn more about music theory, check out our free, no-nonsense, easy-to-understand series Music Theory for the Dropouts.

How to Count Cut Time

You can count music in 2/2 like this:

  • Half note = “one”
  • Quarter note = “and”
  • Eighth note = “e” or “a”

Here’s an example:

Cut time grand staff with 2 quarter notes, 4 eighth notes, 2 quarter notes, and 1 half note. Count displayed: one and two e and a one and two and.

Try clapping and counting this beat with a metronome. Then, try playing and counting at the piano.

You’ll notice that because we have no sixteenth notes, music can look “cleaner” (and even less intimidating!) in cut time.

If you’re ever in doubt, stop playing, count the rhythm, and write it down. We hope this lesson helps!


Cassi Falk Each week, Cassi has 30 students going through her home-based teaching studio - and she’s excited to help you, too, through Pianote! Cassi is trained as an Elementary and Intermediate Specialist through the Royal Conservatory Teacher Certification Program.

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