Have you ever wondered why 4/4 is so much used in music?
In fact, to answer the question why 4/4 is called “common time”, you could simply have a look at the statistics of time signatures in all music ever created.
More than 90% or more of all popular songs written in the last 100 years is in 4/4. That is indeed why it is called “common time”, because it simply is so common.
Why 4/4 is Common Time
But let’s dive deeper into this question. There must be a reason for why 4/4 have become the standard time signature for music?
There is no factual answer, so we have to be a bit philosophical when trying to answer this question.
4/4 is divisible by 2
One answer could be that music feels more natural when the time signature is divisible by 2. Because we have two feet, and we thus naturally count in two: ONE, two, ONE, two for marching. We also have two hands which supports the “divisible by 2” theory.
Up vs Down = 2
Something I personally feel is even more tied to the way music works, is gravity and physics. Opposing forces, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and so on. If you jump, you will then fall down again. In music there are even terms as the Upbeat and the Downbeat, that supports our natural tendency to think of music in Up vs Down. And those are also divisible by 2.
Why 4/4 and not 2/2?
Alright, so why is 4/4 the standard time signature, that is so common that it is called common time? Why not 2/2, since this divisible by 2 mindset seems so strong?
Well, 2/2 is often called marching meter, because of the ONE-TWO-ONE-TWO counting. But even with 4/4 you can divide the 4 beats into 2 downbeats and 2 upbeats. However, with 4/4 you gain a bit more variation and flexibility with how you play those 4 internal beats. Whereas 2/2 has a more stiff and rigid “marching” vibe.