The KTabS Notebook
Time Signatures and Saving Time

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This year, we are doing a series of articles that will explore the many features of KTabS, the totally wonderful Kalimba Tablature Software. This program allows me to be creative and efficient when I write down new or old kalimba songs for myself to remember or to instruct other folks, and my mission is to share my knowledge of this program with other folks so they can also enjoy the kind of creative boost that comes from using KTabS. If my tips about KTabS dribble out over the months a bit too slowly for you, you can always go and drink directly from the fire hydrant—check out the extensive tutorial on the KTabS site.


What Does KTabS Sound Like?

KTabS uses the General MIDI sounds or synthesizers on your computer to create the kalimba sound you hear when you play KTabS.

MIDI menu

Hence, you can make KTabS sound like a marimba (this is what I like to use), or a kalimba (I don't like my computer's MIDI kalimba sound, but yours may be different), or a vibraphone, or a xylophone, or steel string guitar, or any of the different instruments available in the General MIDI set. While banjo actually sounds fine, I recommend against both accordian and bagpipes - but it is always fun to try those things out once. Remember, these sounds are not built into KTabS, they are your computer's General MIDI sounds that KTabS is accessing.

At this time, KTabS does not use truly sampled sounds from different kalimbas, so if you set up different parts for the Alto and the Treble, they will not sound different (except for the range of the instruments), as they will both use whatever you select from the General MIDI menu of sounds. In that bright future when a million kalimba players bring beauty to the ears of the citizens of every city and town, we will no doubt have KTabS version X, with wonderfully sampled kalimba sounds.

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Using Time Signatures in KTabS

The time signature in musical notation has two parts, the top number and the bottom number - say 3/4 or 2/4. The top number indicates how many beats per measure. If someone says "This song is in Three," they are referring to the top number of the time signature. A measure is the space between the bars (see the example tablature further down the page - the "bars" are the horizontal lines, and they break up the music into bite-sized chunks that all take up the same number of beats). You can usually feel the number of beats per measure - i.e., a waltz has "1-2-3 1-2-3"... three beats per measure. A polka has "1-AND-2-AND 1-AND-2-AND"... two beats per measure.

The bottom number indicates the type of note that gets one beat - i.e., "4" in 3/4 or 2/4 indicates that the 4th note, or quarter note, gets one beat.

KTabS permits you to set the time signature at bars, or at the beginning of any new measure. There is an understood bar at the very beginning of the song, before any notes. If you left click on that place, a very narrow line will be selected, and you'll know you have it. Then right click to get the action menu - and the Time Signature item will be permitted (if you get the menu when a note position is selected rather than a bar, the Time Signature action will not be allowed). Select the Time Signature item and the "Enter Time Signature" menu box will appear - it is self explanatory, you enter the top and bottom numbers of the time signature.

By default, KTabS assumes you are in 4/4 time, so if you do nothing to change it, there will be 4 quarter notes per measure.

By all means, play around the with time signature - this is a chance to learn - even if you think you may never need to change the time signature from the 4/4 default. By the way, the most common time signatures are 4/4, 2/4, 3/4, 6/8 and 12/8. Odd numbers on top, such as 7/8 or 5/4 work, but are relatively uncommon. The only numbers I have seen on the bottom are 4, 8, and 2.

Perhaps the coolest aspect about KTabS and timing is that KTabS understands, from the time signature, how many beats fit in a measure. If you try to put more notes into a measure than should fit, the extra note will either slip into the next measure, or, if the measure doesn't have the right number of beats (4.5 beats instead of 4, ending with a quarter note for example) - in which case KTabS will highlight this section in PINK to indicate that something is wrong with the timing - you've got the wrong notes in the measure and you can't get the right number of beats!

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note bar

KTabS Counting Hints and Conventions: The green line at the bottom indicates that the implicit bar line at the beginning has been selected and the time signature could be edited. The time signature, 3/4, is shown at the bottom left, and is in effect for the whole song, or until another time signature is inserted at a bar. Measure 1 has a quarter note (one beat) and a half note (two beats) - which makes three beats in all, filling up the measure. Measure 2 has two half notes which make a total of four beats, which is too much for a single 3/4 measure. KTabS is telling us of this error by highlighting that measure in pink. The correct way to notate this in a 3/4 time signature is illustrated in measure 3 - a half note and a quarter note add up to three beats, and the fourth beat actually belongs in the next measure - but a "tie" - the curved line that looks like a smile - means "hold that note as long as all of the tied notes put together, but only play the first of those tied notes". The lighter shade of gray in measure 4 indicates there are slots for more notes in this measure (two more quarter notes to be exact).

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My Tricks for Saving Time in KTabS

Here are some tricks I've learned to speed up writing music in KTabS:

note bar

When you are writing multiple parts that go together (i.e., see last month's KTabS Notebook for instruction on how to do that), always make sure to save each file individually, and if you start playing and stop to correct a mistake, make sure to "rewind" each part separately. I try to give the different parts very similar names, differing only by the name of the instrument or part, which is appended to the end of the file name (i.e., SaintBehindTheGlass_Alto and SaintBehindTheGass_Cloud9).

This reminds me of a time when I lent a CD to a friend, and when they brought it back to me, that apologized for not rewinding it.

Hey, if you have any great time-saving tips, share them with us!

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What Are Your KTabS Questions?

I am just guessing about what people would find interesting or useful about KTabS. While I have a list of dozens of topics for the coming months of KTabS Forums, my list might not include your ideas. You can help steer this ship by sending me your ideas and suggestions about what you would like to learn about KTabS. Similarly, you might have a great use for KTabS that Sharon and I haven't figured out yet! Hope to hear from you.