With a basic understanding of the notes you can now determine with a bit of time and patience every note that is written on a musical score. The next step is to determine how long you play each note for. This is defined by the time signature.
The piano time signature is denoted at the start of most pieces of music and tells you two things the first is how many beats to each measure and the second is how to count them. The time signature is like the legend to a map, it tells you how to interpret it.
For the purpose of this article we are only going to focus on two of the most common that you will frequently find as a beginner. The first is 4/4 and the second is 3/4.
4/4 means that there are four beats in a measure and each beat is worth a fourth of a note and 3/4 means there are three beats in a measure and each beat is worth a fourth of a note.
A measure is defined as the period within the bar. Bars are the long straight lines that cut vertically through both the treble staff and the bass staff. Incidentally an image such as that shown below where there is both a treble and bass staff is known as the grand staff.
The image is of the first four bars of Ode to Joy. At the beginning of the staff after the treble clef and base clef simple you can see the time signature. This piece therefore has four beats to each measure. In the first three bars on the treble clef, these can be easily recognised as each beat has a corresponding note. These notes are called quarter notes because each one is quarter of the measure.
The important thing to remember is that each bar must be full. The sum of the value of each of the notes must make a whole, that that whole value will be equal to the number on the top of your time signature. So even in the fourth bar shown above, you know that although these notes are different to the quarter notes, they will still total four beats.