How to Change Time Signature in FL Studio

Time signature, also known as meter signature, is the convention we use to tell us how many beats are in one bar and which note value (duration of a note) is equal to one beat. In this tutorial, we’ll cover a few basics on time signatures, how to change the timebase setting, and how to change time signature in FL Studio.

Time Signatures 101

Like we mentioned earlier, time signature is the notation we use to define how many beats are in a bar, and what note duration (whole note, half note, quarter note, etc.) is equal to one beat. Let’s get some basic definitions on the table first, though:

• Beat – basic unit of time in musical notation. Often described as the rhythm that listeners can tap their toes to
• Bar (or measure) – time segment that corresponds to a specific number of beats

In FL Studio, the default time signature is 4/4. We also call this common time and see it used in many Western musical compositions. The upper number (numerator) indicates number of beats per bar. The lower number (denominator) indicates how long a beat is or the beat’s note value. Basically, we divide the number 1 by the lower number to get the beat’s note value.

Here are some examples:

• 4/4 time means that there are 4 beats per bar, and each beat is equal to a quarter note
• 3/4 time means that there are 3 beats per bar, and each beat is equal to a quarter note
• 3/8 time means that there are 3 beats per bar, and each beat is equal to an eighth note

In FL Studio’s Step Sequencer at default 4/4 time, we can see that each beat consists of four adjacent gray or red steps, and that each set of four beats makes up one bar. Each step is 1/4 of a beat, and each beat is a quarter note, so that means each step is a sixteenth note.

Above we can see that each beat has 4 steps and each kick is falling on a beat. There are 4 kicks per bar and 4 sixteenth notes per beat, making this 4/4 time.

Now that we’ve got the basics down, we can go into FL Studio and change the time signature to our liking.

How to Change Time Signature

Before FL Studio 20, the option to change time signatures in FL Studio was not available. If you’re still using a previous version, I suggest taking advantage of free lifetime updates offered by Image-Line.

1. Navigate to Options → Project general settings
2. Under Time settings, select Set as time signature
3. Choose numerator (beats per bar) and denominator (note duration per beat)

You’ll notice that the Step Sequencer has changed to reflect the new time signature:

Here we have 3/4 time, so 3 beats per bar and one beat = a quarter note.

Notice that since we didn’t change the denominator (lower number), the step note duration (sixteenth note) and beat note duration (quarter note) remain unchanged.

Here we have 3/8 time, so 3 beats per bar and one beat = an eighth note. We did change the denominator here, so the beat note duration has changed from a quarter note to an eighth note. Step note duration remains the same at a sixteenth note.

Change Time Signature During Playback

Let’s say we want the time signature to change as the track progresses. FL Studio 20 makes it easy to do this, too. Let’s take a look.

For an example, we’re going to create two Patterns. One Pattern will be in 4/4 time and the other will be in 3/4 time. Then, we’ll place them into the Playlist and create similar time signature changes there so that the Pattern and Playlist time signatures match.

1. Open the Piano roll for the Pattern and instrument or sample that you want to change time signature for
2. Piano roll options (top left arrow) → Time markers → Add time signature change…(Shift+Alt+T)
3. Choose new time signature
4. Move the marker – everything to the right of the time signature change marker will use the new time signature
5. To delete or edit, right-click the marker

Now that we have two patterns each with different time signatures, we need to define time signature regions in the Playlist too so everything lines up nicely.

1. Open the Playlist
2. Playlist options (top left arrow) → Time markers → Add time signature change…(Shift+Alt+T)
3. Choose new time signature
4. Move the marker – everything to the right of the time signature change marker will use the new time signature
5. To delete or edit, right-click the marker

Alternately, you can click the small piano icon in the top left of your Pattern clip and then sync the time signature from Pattern to playlist or vice-versa from that menu.

Timebase (PPQ)

You may have noticed the Timebase (PPQ) setting to the right of the time signature setting under Options. This isn’t really related to time signatures, but it deserves attention.

FL Studio and other DAWs quantize time into small increments called “pulses” and then use these pulses partly to determine the position in time at which things are happening or can happen at. PPQ stands for “pulses per quarter note” and changes how many of these pulses FL Studio will generate for each quarter note of time in the DAW.

The more pulses that get squeezed into a quarter note, the finer your movements and positioning will be for MIDI data in the Piano roll, and automation clips, patterns, and audio clips in the Playlist.

By default, PPQ is 96. Let’s look at what type of movement resolution we can achieve with 96 pulses per quarter note in the Playlist.

With grid snap setting to (none),this is the farthest we can zoom in! Let’s look at the maximum PPQ setting, 960. This will allow us to zoom in 10x further and move things with 10x the precision.

That’s a pretty big difference! The tiny gaps in these animations are the widths of one of these pulses that we talked about earlier.

Why Is Timebase Important?

Well, for one thing, it allows you to have more control over the positioning of everything within FL Studio. This becomes important when you are using FL Studio to record vocals or live instruments into the Playlist. Real people are never perfect with their timing, and we want to capture that as accurately as possible!

You may be asking, “Well then why don’t we just set PPQ at 960 all the time?” And the answer to that is twofold. One, because there are situations where you’d want a lower PPQ and therefore a lower resolution (think about quantization). And two, the higher the PPQ setting is, the more of a load on your processor. Certain processors will not be able to handle it.

We got a little sidetracked there. But anyway, that wraps it up for this article. Thanks for reading!