Introduction: How to Count and Play in Cut Time Signature

Cut Time is a specific time signature that you will find a lot in your piano music, especially after you really start learning what time signatures are and how to count and play all of the different ones that we have.

If you remember our previous lessons about time signatures, you will have already learned that the top number in a time signature tells us how many and the bottom number tells us of what - in each measure.

Let's see what a Cut Time time signature looks like and what it means in terms of how many beats are in each measure and what kind of note will get the beat.

Step 1: What Is Cut Time?

Cut Time is signified in music with 2/2, or 2 over 2.

If we use our formula - we conclude that there are 2 beats in each measure and the half note will get the beat, since 2 = a half note.

That's new! A half note gets the beat? Usually, it's a quarter note or even an eighth note, right?

  • These time signatures are 4/4 = 4 quarter notes in each measure or 6/8 = 6 eighth notes in each measure.

Since we have 2/2 this time, everything changes. Even the note values change in this time signature.

Let's find out what those differences are when we go back and look at a 4/4 time signature.

Step 2: How Is Cut Time Different From 4/4 Time?

When we have a 4/4 time signature, the quarter note gets the beat because 4 is the bottom number.

When we have a 2/2 time signature or Cut Time, the half note gets the beat so the quarter note will only get 1/2 of a beat.

How did we come to that?

  • By cutting the half note in half. When we divide a half note into 2 equals, we end up with 2 quarter notes - so 1 quarter note = only 1/2 of a beat now, instead of a whole beat in 4/4 time.

Remember that you have to make sure that you are giving the correct type of note the beat with each different time signature, and when that changes, so do your note values. Just cut everything in half, when you play in Cut Time.

Once you master Cut Time, you will find it much easier to play specific types of notes. Let's see what those are in the next step.

Step 3: Why Do We Use Cut Time?

This particular time signature is great to use with faster notes, such as 16th and 32nd notes.


  • Because it helps us group them together easier and play them faster because we're not counting each individual note.

If you think about it, in Cut Time, an 8th note would be the same as a 16th note in 4/4 time. So instead of 2 notes, you would only have 1.

  • This actually helps us read the music easier because there aren't so many flags on the page from 16th and 32nd notes.

Cut Time makes things simpler and easier to count and play through. Anytime you see a lot of fast notes in your piano music, look to see if there is a 2/2 Time Signature and remember to convert your note values to match the new bottom Half Note emphasis.

Let's go to our pianos now and see some examples of Cut Time and play through them together so you can really understand how it works.

Step 4: Come Practice With Me!

The example I use in the video portion of this lesson can be counted in 4/4 time but is written in Cut Time. We will go over it in both time signatures so you can see, hear and even play with the different counting.

The faster notes in this example are 8th notes, but you will hear how many syllables I have to count if I keep it in the 4/4 time's tongue-tying for sure!

Now if you are a beginner, it will actually help you to count it first in 4/4 and then covert over to Cut Time; just to give you a familiar starting point.

Come back to this lesson/video anytime you encounter Cut Time in your music and have some questions or just want to make sure that you are giving the correct notes the right beats. Remember...just cut everything in half!