More Odd Time-Signatures

You first studied odd time-signatures in Chapter 14, but there's still much more to explore. Odd meters are common in prog-rock and other forms of art rock. They are also used occasionally in mainstream pop. Key pop examples include “Salisbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel, “Heart of Glass” by Blondie, which features an instrumental interlude in 7/4, and “Dreaming in Metaphors” by Seal. Sting has also used odd time-signatures in his solo material (see Vinnie Colaiuta in Chapter 17).

Odd time-signatures can be a breath of fresh air if you've been listening to (or playing) lots of repetitive 4/4 grooves. However, they can also be obnoxious if they are used solely to make a song sound complex, different, and just plain weird. This book assumes that 2/2, 2/4, 3/4, 6/8, and 12/8 are relatively common-time signatures. Therefore, this chapter will focus on the time signatures 5/4, 5/8, 7/4, and 7/8. Other odd time-signatures certainly exist, and mixed meters are possible, too (as you saw in Chapter 14).

How convoluted can odd time-signatures get? The sky's the limit! You could write a song in 28/16 if you wish. However, it probably wouldn't have much musical value. Ultimately, if you're writing music or devising a drum part and you feel a groove in an odd time-signature, you should follow your instincts, throw caution to the wind, and try it out.

If you create songs in odd time-signatures just for the sake of doing it, you will probably leave the listener cold. Forced odd time-signatures usually sound stiff and uninviting. Odd time-signatures are tough, especially for intermediates or semi-pros, so use them only when the composition truly warrants their use.

Figure 15-9 shows you some groove possibilities in 5/4 and 5/8. In 5/4, there are five beats in a measure and the quarter note receives one beat. In 5/8, there are five beats in a measure and the eighth note receives one beat. With each beat, an attempt has been made to maintain a backbeat; this is a natural musical inclination that should be trusted.

Figure 15-10 shows you rock beats in 7/4 and 7/8. Remember, in 7/4, there are seven beats in a measure and the quarter note receives one beat. In 7/8, there are seven beats in a measure and the eighth note receives one beat. This isn't rocket science, but you'd be well advised to count carefully when you play in any odd meter. It's easy to get off, turn the beat around, or unintentionally fall back into 4/4.

FIGURE 15-9: Rock beats in 5

FIGURE 15-10: Rock beats in 7

  1. Home
  2. Rock Drums
  3. Progressive Rock
  4. More Odd Time-Signatures
Visit other About.com sites: