Understanding and Using Odd Time Signatures - 6 Examples

This video explains the basics of odd time signatures while also giving tips on writing them, and demonstrating various odd meters from different recordings. Mission Impossible Theme, "Money" by Pink Floyd, "Scatterbrain" by Jeff Beck, "Here Comes The Sun" by The Beatles,  "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams, "Home" by Dream Theater...


Please note, this transcription was computer generated and has not been checked for errors. However, I do hope you find it helpful. Be sure to check out The Ultimate Modal Poster!

Odd time signatures can be pretty intimidating if you're new to music and music theory but there's really nothing to be scared of. So in this video. What I want to do is talk to you about odd time signatures. What are they? How do we count them? How can we parse them? And I want to show you examples of where we hear this stuff in actual music throughout this entire video as I'm giving you these examples I'll also be talking to you about how do we write our own odd time signatures and make them more musical because this is a big problem when you start writing with odd times is things sound a little clunky a I'll monotonous and a little repetitive. So there's a lot of tricks we can do to make our odd time sound more Musical and I'll be describing that throughout the video. So let's get started. If you don't know about time signatures, there's two numbers. There's a top number and a bottom number the top number just tells you how many and the bottom number tells you of what so here when I see for for it's telling me I have four quarter notes. All right that bottom number that for means quarter if I had an eight down there it would mean for eighth notes if I had a 16 down there it would mean four sixteenth notes and that's just telling us how many Beets are in my measure in a measure of for for I have four quarter notes. That's just four beats, but in a measure of five four well now I have five quarter notes in a measure of seven for I'd have seven quarter notes, right but let's take a look at 5-4 specifically one quarter note is just one beat and now I have five quarter notes in my measure. So that's five beats in my full measure 1 2 3 4 5.

So at the very simplest level I could write something in five four just by stringing together five quarter notes. What I'll do is I'll go in an F sharp F sharp minor and I'll just play up five notes of the pentatonic minor scale 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 but like I said, this is pretty boring.

It is in five for them.

If I wanted to make it more interesting. One thing that I could maybe do is start adding in some eighth notes just because I'm in five four doesn't mean I have to play five border knows I could play 10 eighth notes. I could play some 16th notes as long as it all adds up to five beats, then I'm in five four. So let's say instead of just playing these five quarter notes. I decide to maybe play some dotted quarter notes instead like this. I'll do a dotted quarter note a dotted quarter note and then two quarter notes that all adds up to five beats 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 & 1 & 2 & 5 this is sounding a little bit more interesting already and what if I switch things up a little bit?

You should recognize that as the mission impossible things are five Mana TNT 25 of on an antic and 4 and 5 and 1/2, which is a great example of five for being and it's a very comfortable five for there's really nothing awkward about that five for what helps is you've got that nice interesting dotted quarter note pattern, but also if you see what's going on there, I'm in F sharp minor and then here I play an E. My flat 7 and then I play my leading tone right next to it an F natural and takes me to F sharp when I play e f and f sharp like after E. And F. You know, what's coming next that F sharp is the obvious choice there. So we're repeating our measure is soon as that obvious choice of F sharp comes in and I think that's what helps this five for Groove. So well is that we don't leave that last beat hanging out and like unexpected. You know, what's going to happen next as soon as I play that EF?

Sharp, so you're kind of being queued off your being like nudged to believe this is in five four and it sounds natural that way and I think that's an important part of writing an odd times is also understanding what are the melodic elements actually doing to assist our odd time. So there's an example of composing with five quarter notes. What about seven for instead? Well, like I said that top number tells us how many and the bottom number tells us. What so here. I just have seven quarter notes instead of five quarter notes, so I would count to seven now a quick warning hear the word 7 actually has two Levels, so if you try counting 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 then you might end up splitting that seventh beat into two beats instead.

So I kind of recommend maybe just use the word Sev instead or just say 7 really fast and be aware that it's actually two syllables there. So it's not the most convenient way to count to seven.

Sometimes I'll just subdivide and I'll just count one two, three four one, two, three or one two three, one two, three four, and that way I can avoid saying the number seven all together.

So I'm going to play around in be. Here right. Now. I'm going to be in be pentatonic minor and if I just play seven quarter notes up the be pentatonic scale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 once again, I'm in 7 for but it's pretty boring.


So what I'm going to try and do is add in some eighth notes and maybe we'll add them in one two and three four five six seven one two, and three four five six seven one two, and three four five six seven.

What if IB by 8 Swung eighth notes instead of straight A guns at him 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 if I start changing the notes around a little bit. You'll hear this rip come through which is Money by Pink Floyd and that's just probably the most famous example of 7/4 be played.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven one, two, three, four, five six seven one.

One two three, four five six, so that's dealing with odd times and quarter notes. But what about when you get into odd times with an 8 on the bottom something like nine eight? Well nine eight would mean I have nine eight notes and I want you to think of that like a full measure of four four plus an extra eighth note. So you'll have a full measure of quarter notes. One, two, three four, then one two, three four that half note that half of a quarter note because at the end of my entire measurement, 4 4 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 now this is much more rare than just using an odd number of quarter notes. You're gonna have to search a little farther to find examples of it in common music the example. I'm going to give you a specific lien Ina is from Jeff Beck the song scatterbrain on the album blow-by-blow.

Now you can hear I'm counting 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 1 but I could. Also just count to the number nine. That's a legitimate way to count odd times as well.

It's pretty rare to hear these odd time signatures build up an entire section. Earn entire song, especially with something like seven eight or nine eight. We usually hear these things as just one little measure of that thing happening at maybe the end of a section. The help us transition into something different you can hear something like this in Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles. Most of that song is in 4/4, but after the second chorus we go into a bridge section that uses a quick measure of 7-8 to kick us into another measure of six eight then a measure of 5/8 and then back to for for it's pretty complicated for a Beatle song. You might think that most of those songs are simple, but we've got some pretty complicated time signatures going on there. So if I try counting over the top of it it would sound like this.

Same kind of thing in the song Classical Gas by Mason WIlliams. Most of that song is in 4/4. They're scattered measures of odd times though, and there's a measure of seven eight at the end of the chorus that takes a straight into a measure of 6-8. Once again, just as a transitional bump almost like a speed bump to get us out of that for for feel and into something more rambunctious.

One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, five six at one and two and three and one and two and three and one and two and one and two Lastly let's talk about odd time signatures with a sixteenth note on the bottom something like seven sixteen or Seventeen sixteen. So if I've got something like 716 that just means I have seven sixteenth notes. You would count that one E and A two e and uh one E and A two e and 1 E and A 2 e n and once again, we don't even have to full quarter notes Here. I do want you to think about the quarter note in relationship to this. I've only got one full quarter note and then I've got 75 percent of a quarter note 1 E and A 2 e and one E and A two e and uh one E and A two e He and one and understandably. This is fairly difficult to compose with and it can be pretty jarring. But it's used to great effect in progressive rock a lot of progressive rock and progressive metal is meant to keep you off your toes rhythmically so stuff like 7/16 and 15/16 pops up pretty frequently in prog rock like Hagen or Dream Theater at the end of home by Dream Theater. There's a quick little line of 1516.

That sounds like this.

So hopefully this gives you some ideas of where you might hear odd time signatures and a little bit of information on how to compose with them better. But really why should you be using odd times in my opinion odd times give a lot more power to good old four four four four is amazing. It's a great great times and she has so much power so much energy, but it kind of loses its currency when all you get is 4 for if you have something off settling like nine eight then all of a sudden for for is going to groove a really Hard when you break into it, most of writing good music is about contrast and that doesn't just mean melodically or harmonically or with Timbre. It also means with rhythm and you'll hear a lot of good examples of for four sections driving harder than they should just because they were surrounded by more disjointed time signatures. So I think that's one of the big values of working with odd times.

Also, it's just more fun.

Sometimes working with odd times can be a taxing event on your brain and it can really keep you active in keeping count as opposed to just you know, internally feeling the beat. And I find it's really good exercise. I find a lot of fun stuff that comes out of working with odd times and it opens up a whole new box of shapes and patterns and rhythms and grooves.

It can be hard to work with and in my experience. The hardest part is making it musical. So people when they hear it, they don't just instantly think it's just random chaos something like that mission impossible theme song is a perfect example of an odd time that just fits in perfectly and to me that's the goal is to be able to use these things just to seamlessly as we might use for for it's important to remember that this is only odd for Westerners there's parts of the world where 9 is on equal footing with for and India. For example, there's many of their rhythmic Cycles are based on seven nine eleven Polly rhythms are very commonplace in carnatic music. So for us this might seem pretty weird, but it's important to keep in mind that a lot of parts of the world. This is just music. They don't see anything special about five or seven to them. It's just as legitimate as for I think that's a cool way to think. So, I hope you enjoyed this video. I hope you learned something from this video. If you enjoy videos like this, please like subscribe comment. Share this video with your friends and I could use your help on my patreon page. These lessons would not be possible without your support and I appreciate that so I plan on seeing you in the not-so-distant future.


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