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August 14, 2006 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Most of Pink Floyd's "Money" is in 7/4 time. What other hit songs have been written in odd time signatures? Bonus points for big hits and/or recent examples.
posted by Crotalus to Media & Arts (85 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Spoonman is also in 7/4.

The Mission Impossible theme.
posted by sohcahtoa at 7:09 AM on August 14, 2006


Rush's YYZ has parts in 5/4 - which is pretty weird!
posted by pazazygeek at 7:09 AM on August 14, 2006


I'd start here, though you'll have to pick your way through some esoteric stuff. One of the most mainstream bands that does the weirdest stuff is Tool, who've put out songs in 13/8 (!), among other oddities.
posted by Mayor West at 7:12 AM on August 14, 2006


Dave Brubeck's "Take 5" was pretty popular in it's day. That's in 5/4 I believe.
posted by cosmicbandito at 7:12 AM on August 14, 2006


This may be useful!

Radiohead and Frank Zappa appear to be the unusual time signature kings (including 'Everything in its right place' in 10/4 time). In terms of recent big hits we have Katie Melua with 'Closest thing to Crazy' in 7/4 time. Classic hits like 'White Room' and 'Across the Universe' are partially in 5/4. Plenty more in that article. I'd be interested to hear the stuff in 29/16 time!
posted by TwoWordReview at 7:19 AM on August 14, 2006


Question in question matrioska: what is this kind of music measure of beat ? 5/4 = 5 beats in 1 second assumuing 4 beats per second ?
posted by elpapacito at 7:20 AM on August 14, 2006


Or you know, what Mayor West said!
posted by TwoWordReview at 7:21 AM on August 14, 2006


Also Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo a la Turk, etc: "Brubeck experimented with time signatures through much of his career, recording "Pick Up Sticks" in 6/4, "Unsquare Dance" in 7/4, and "Blue Rondo à la Turk" in 9/8, an experimentation begun with his attempts to put music to the odd rhythms generated by various machines around him on his parents' cattle ranch in a small town in the western United States."w
posted by adamrice at 7:22 AM on August 14, 2006


Gah, TwoWordReview beat me to it ;-P
posted by vanoakenfold at 7:23 AM on August 14, 2006


Sting's "Love is Stronger Than Justice" is in 6/8, which isn't unusual for jazz, but it's kind of strange for pop music.
posted by headspace at 7:25 AM on August 14, 2006


(note: Take 5 was written by sax player Paul Desmond, not Brubeck himself). Brubeck did a lot of that kind of music - 'Blue Rondo a la Turk' is in 9/8 which would be normal if it were subdivided in 3 groups of 3, but instead is subdivided 2/2/2/3. That was the point of 'Time Out'.

Tubular Bells - not exactly a song, but you know what I mean - goes through a whole load of weird time signatures.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:26 AM on August 14, 2006


Devo's "Jocko Homo" is in 7/8
posted by SansPoint at 7:27 AM on August 14, 2006


Sting's "Love is Stronger Than Justice" is in 6/8

Actually, that's in 7/4.
posted by Crotalus at 7:27 AM on August 14, 2006


elpapacito: time signatures are X/Y where X is the number of beats in a measure and Y is the subdivision that represents one beat. So, 4/4 = 4 beats in a measure, one quarter note is one beat. 5/4 would be 5 beats in a measure, with a quarter note getting a beat. This sounds odd to a lot of people, because 4/4 is you're regular 1-and-2-and-3-and-4 and 5/4 is 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-5. It feels... long. 7/4 even more so. It really has to do with where it "feels" like measures, phrases, and song sections end, to some extent.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:35 AM on August 14, 2006


Question in question matrioska: what is this kind of music measure of beat ? 5/4 = 5 beats in 1 second assumuing 4 beats per second ?

the second figure is the basic beat - 4 refers to a quarter-note (US English) or crotchet (British English). The first figure represents how many unit notes (here they are crotchets (quarter notes)) there are in one bar (measure). There will be a separate instruction indicating the speed (in beats per minute).

Three beats in a bar, with a slight swing on the first beat, is your classic waltz beat (The Blue Danube). Four beats is a march. Five is a bit weird to your average human brain - hence the question.

An example: 9/8. This means that the basic note unit is the eighth note (quaver) and that there are nine of these in one bar (measure). Bars can also be subdivided, and bars with 9 note units usually are subdivided, otherwise the music sounds monotonous. The usual subdivision is 3/3/3, meaning that each bar has three emphases. Brubeck in the 'Blue Rondo', however, has a bar of 9 eighth-notes with 4 emphases, subdivided 2/2/2/3.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:35 AM on August 14, 2006


Question in question matrioska: what is this kind of music measure of beat ? 5/4 = 5 beats in 1 second assumuing 4 beats per second ?
posted by elpapacito at 7:20 AM PST on August 14


It means 5 beats to the bar, where the standard beat is a quarter note or crotchet (depending on American or European terminology). In the same way something in 7/8 time would be 7 beats in a bar where the standard beat is a quaver or eighth note. The length of each beat though is determined by the tempo which is expressed in bpm, so the time signature doesn't determine the speed, only the way the beats are grouped or where the accent goes.
posted by TwoWordReview at 7:36 AM on August 14, 2006


The song that's played at the beginning of the NPR show "Fresh Air" (by the Microscopic Septet, I think) is in 5/4. I'm not sure it's a "hit song", but a lot of people hear it, over and over.
posted by amtho at 7:36 AM on August 14, 2006


the Stranglers' Golden Brown shifts between waltz time and 7/8 in a clever way
posted by bonaldi at 7:37 AM on August 14, 2006


Prog rock is a genre that often uses weird time signatures, as well - I'm sure someone who knows more than I do can weight in on this.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:38 AM on August 14, 2006


weigh, even.
posted by altolinguistic at 7:40 AM on August 14, 2006


Doesn't "Jesus Christ Superstar" have a song in 5/4? "Everything's Allright?"
posted by Gilbert at 7:54 AM on August 14, 2006


As an addition to TwoWordReview's comment, a good example of a 5/4 time signature is the international ringtone for the UK.

It goes 'RING RING [...] [...] [...] RING RING [...] [...] [...]'. I remember someone telling me that 5/4 time was chosen because it was the most annoying or demanded the most attention.

So seriously, if you want a good example of something in pure 5/4 time, go call some random telephone numbers starting 011 44.
posted by randomination at 7:56 AM on August 14, 2006


And somebody mentioned Radiohead earlier, I think the first 'movement' of Paranoid Android is in 11/8 time.
posted by randomination at 7:59 AM on August 14, 2006


This is all pretty interesting and stuff, but how does one (as a non-musician) go about "spotting" music that has an unusual time signature?

I'm familiar with Money, Spoonman, M:I, and Everything in it's right place, but never noticed anything particularly weird about them...
posted by Chunder at 8:01 AM on August 14, 2006


The Who's "Music Must Change" is in 6/8. Keith Moon couldn't drum in that time signature for the recording, so the percussion is Pete Townshend's footsteps.
posted by kimota at 8:03 AM on August 14, 2006


See also: Math Rock--the genre named for its reliance on exotic time signatures.
posted by Iridic at 8:04 AM on August 14, 2006


Can't believe nobody's mentioned Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" yet. It's in 7/4.

Erasure did a cover that's in 4/4, so if you're a non-musician looking to spot unusual time signatures, it might be fun to compare the versions to see where the "missing" beat went in the original.
posted by kindall at 8:13 AM on August 14, 2006


A lot of Beatles tunes. Also, much Indian Classical music has irregular time signatures, so music inspired by it (such as '60's Raga Rock) often has those time signatures as well.
posted by rottytooth at 8:17 AM on August 14, 2006


There was something in the liner notes to The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs about one of the tracks being in 7/4, but I can't remember which one. I think Stephin Merritt mentioned he was inspired by the Madison (as featured in Hairspray) and said it was best danced by an injured octopus.
posted by kittyprecious at 8:21 AM on August 14, 2006


First thing I thought of was Jethro Tull's "Living in the Past," which sounds like 5/4 to my ear. I once heard that their label wanted them to write a radio-friendly pop song, and they decided to go with the odd time signature.
posted by booth at 8:22 AM on August 14, 2006


Previously asked.
posted by hot soup girl at 8:27 AM on August 14, 2006


nrbq's "me and the boys" shifts time signatures. a lot of their stuff does this because of terry adams's training in jazz.

you might also listen to some lush -- i know a few of their songs have weird signatures.

burt bacharach is known for his time-shifts, too.
posted by sdn at 8:28 AM on August 14, 2006


Tool - Schism (almost any Tool song is in an odd time)

A Perfect Circle - Weak and Powerless and The Outsider (not huge hits but both were radio played and recent)

Led Zeppelin - The Ocean

Tom Yorke - his new song off of Eraser

those are just a few off the top of my head
posted by comatose at 8:32 AM on August 14, 2006


Primus does a bunch of this kind of stuff. "Here come the bastards" for example.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 8:37 AM on August 14, 2006


March of the Pigs by Nine Inch Nails is 7/8 + 7/8 + 7/8 + 4/4 (3 bars of 7/8 followed by one bar of 4/4).

Check out this list of irregular time signatures

posted by utsutsu at 8:48 AM on August 14, 2006


Randomination: No, the first part of "Paranoid Android" is in straight 4/4, though parts of the middle alternate between 4/4 and 7/8.

"Schism," depending on how you want to count it, is mostly in 12/8 (not common, but not rare), but it constantly jumps into 13/8, 11/8, 14/8, 9/8, and even a few bars of good ol' 4/4 for the heavy bits.

A few of the big Metallica songs are odd, too. "Master of Puppets" has bars of 7/8 in the verses, and "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" does an odd switch through 3/4 and 2/4.

And yeah, that Wikipedia list is spectacular.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 8:52 AM on August 14, 2006


Another side question: Can anyone in-the-know tell me what the noticeable change is in this song at 1:24? Is a time signature change? And is so, what happens?
posted by ed\26h at 8:56 AM on August 14, 2006


Hey Ya, by Outkast (US hot100 #1, natch) either switches from 4/4 to 2/4 for a single measure in the middle, or is in 11/4 time throughout... depending on the source.
posted by cadastral at 8:56 AM on August 14, 2006


Alice In Chains' "Them Bones" alternates between 7/8 and 4/4.

This is all pretty interesting and stuff, but how does one (as a non-musician) go about "spotting" music that has an unusual time signature?

Chundler, try tapping your foot in a standard 4/4 beat (TAP tap TAP tap) when you suspect something irregular. Or look for moments when you catch yourself expecting something other than the next note, which "Spoonman" and "Them Bones" do to me. Even that isn't foolproof, though ("Hey Ya" in 11/4! Of course! But I'd never thought of it until now).
posted by werty at 9:02 AM on August 14, 2006


Indie rock collective Broken Social Scene named a recent song about it's unusual time signature 7/4 Shoreline.
posted by metaname at 9:02 AM on August 14, 2006


"Count Five or Six" by Cornelius
posted by rottytooth at 9:09 AM on August 14, 2006


Chunder : "This is all pretty interesting and stuff, but how does one (as a non-musician) go about 'spotting' music that has an unusual time signature?"

There’s no secret method, you just count the beats out and notice where it loops. Make sure that your counting is in a steady "1 2 3 4" rhythm, not "1 and 2 3 4 and" or anything like that. Pretty much most music will have you counting "1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4". Now go listen to Money, and you'll find that you're counting "1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5". That's about it.

Oh, and if you're counting something above seven, remember not to count seven as "se-ven", since that's two syllables. I usually count "one two three four five six sen eight" instead.

randomination : "And somebody mentioned Radiohead earlier, I think the first 'movement' of Paranoid Android is in 11/8 time."

I just listened to it to check, but it's in 4/4 (or 4/8, or 8/4...I'm terrible with that part of music theory. Regardless, it's in 4)
posted by Bugbread at 9:14 AM on August 14, 2006


cadastral : "Hey Ya, by Outkast (US hot100 #1, natch) either switches from 4/4 to 2/4 for a single measure in the middle, or is in 11/4 time throughout... depending on the source."

What do you mean by "source"? You mean different recordings? The one I have on my ipod is either 4/4, 4/4, 4/4, 2/4, or in 14/4, depending on how you want to count it.
posted by Bugbread at 9:17 AM on August 14, 2006


ed\26h: Unless the video version is significantly different from the album version, there's no change in time signature in "Modern World"; it's in 4/4 throughout. However, there is a syncopated, hemiola-ish rhythm that enters into it, spanning two bars:

x1D100; x1D100; x1D100; x1D100; x1d13e; x1D100; x1D100; x1D100; | x1D100; x1d13e; x1D100; x1d15f; x1D100; x1D100; x1D100;

I think I used the right Unicode there. This computer doesn't have the appropriate fonts installed, though, so I might have botched it.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:23 AM on August 14, 2006


And, of course, it's bolloxed anyways. For the record, 1d100 is supposed to be an eighth note, 1d13e an eighth rest, and 1d15f a quarter note.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:25 AM on August 14, 2006


sorry... by "source" I meant, uh "where I read it". I can see how that was vague.

Examples:
Wikipedia says 4/4 with 2/4 middle measure
Rolling Stone says 11/4
posted by cadastral at 9:28 AM on August 14, 2006


A lot of Dave Matthews Band's songs are in bizarre time signatures, particularly the album Busted Stuff, which is one of the reasons that drummer Carter Beauford is particularly well-respected by his peers.
posted by waldo at 9:28 AM on August 14, 2006


Cadastral:

A close listening indicates that Rolling Stone is just wrong. Saying "8/4 and 6/4" or "14/4" or other such combinations would all make sense, but it's definitely not 11.
posted by Bugbread at 9:32 AM on August 14, 2006


King Crimson, is, I believe, philosophically opposed to conventional time signatures. Discipline is still probably their best album and has a few songs in "unconventional" meters.

Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Birds of Fire" has a few as well.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:43 AM on August 14, 2006


Well... I'll defer to you, I'll be the first to say that I have no idea what I'm talking about.

But a ton of people (perhaps mistakenly following the RS review... or whoever RS might've been folowing) are laboring under that assumption.
posted by cadastral at 9:44 AM on August 14, 2006


ed\26h - not much happens - the time signature (number of beats per measure - here it's four beats per measure) appears to stay the same, but the heavy drumbeat drops out and the piano (?) and guitar emphasise the first and third beats a bit more, giving it a slightly different character.
posted by altolinguistic at 9:57 AM on August 14, 2006


A lot of Beatles tunes.

Which ones? There are some songs that have triplets ("Strawberry Fields", "We Can Work it Out", ), and "Here Comes The Sun" has some funky internal rhythms, but...?

As usual, I'm too late to the party to throw in my "Take Five", "Mission Impossible" and "Everything's All Right" suggestions. Great for playing "guess the thread", by the way.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:34 AM on August 14, 2006


The verses of All you need is love are in 7.

Happiness is a warm gun moves around a lot. The end bit (where they sing "happiness is a warm gun") starts off in 4, but then when he starts in with the "when I hold you in my arms" they switch to three. After that rap - "because!" - they are back in 4.

"She said she said" switches around a lot.

Just of the top of my head...
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:50 AM on August 14, 2006


Back in the USSR - "back in the us, back in the us, back in the ussr" - that section switches time signatures.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:52 AM on August 14, 2006


Seven Days, by Sting. It's in 5.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:52 AM on August 14, 2006


Johnny Assay & altolinguistic:

After reading a few descriptions of how to work it out for oneself, I decided it was 4/4 all the way through - and thanks for the explainations of what happens at that point - very helpful!
posted by ed\26h at 10:56 AM on August 14, 2006


bugbread, that would be 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 for PF's "Money", not 1 2 3 4 5.

Also, it occurs to me that non-musical people might not even be able to tell when to stop counting if they can't spot the beginning and ending of the rhythmic pattern. Maybe that's not difficult, though.

"Money" shifts into 4/4 during the guitar solo and the fade-out.
posted by emelenjr at 11:05 AM on August 14, 2006


Some overlooked goodies by Rush are "Kid Gloves" from the "Grace Under Pressure" album as well as "Limelight" and "Tom Sawyer" from the Moving Pictures disc, where the changes are more subtle, but are definately in there.
posted by 4ster at 11:24 AM on August 14, 2006


> There’s no secret method, you just count the beats out and notice where it loops.

And that's the problem. Several people I know can't identify the *downbeat*, which is what's necessary to do that.

Dave Grusin's Out Of The Shadows has a couple tracks with odd signatures, one's 7/4 and I think one's 11/4.

I always think Serengeti Walk is the 11/4, but I'm almost always wrong.
posted by baylink at 12:52 PM on August 14, 2006


Sufjan Stevens' "Dear Mr. Supercomputer" is recent, and almost entirely in 7/8 time (except for the brief intro).
posted by jenovus at 12:57 PM on August 14, 2006


During the last thirty seconds of the song Sister Jack by Spoon on their latest recording Gimme Fiction, the band sneaks an extra beat into every other measure. Instead of every two measures being 4 + 4 beats, they become 4 + 5 beats. They make this transition so smoothly that it isn't as jarring or off balance as a song in 5 or 7 often is.

It's an elegant way to add to the interest of the song, however. It causes my mind to switch back and forth between counting it in 4/4 with an extra beat "1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1" and counting it in 3/4 "1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3."
posted by umbú at 1:04 PM on August 14, 2006


emelenjr : "bugbread, that would be 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 for PF's 'Money', not 1 2 3 4 5."

Oops, yeah, sorry.
posted by Bugbread at 1:20 PM on August 14, 2006


Ah, I found something about the 11/4 Hey Ya math:
Depending on how you count it, the song either goes through two bars of 8/8 time before turning through one bar of 6/8, or does five bars of 4/4 and then a bar of 2/4—or is in 22/8 (or 11/4) time.
I'm horrible when it comes to the bottom side of the equation (I understand and can easily hear that Money is in 7, or Take 5 is in 5, but I have no idea how to determine if they're in 7/4, 7/8, or 7/pi), but is it "allowed" to reduce the fraction like that? That is, can we say that something in 22/8 is in 11/4? Can I say that Money is in 3.5/2, or 14/8?
posted by Bugbread at 1:25 PM on August 14, 2006


Not really an odd time signature, but Led Zeppelin's Kashmir has the drummer playing in 4/4 (with some kind of double stroke on bass) while the rest of the band is in 3/4.

Brubeck's Time Further Out is a collection of songs with time based on numbers in a Joan Miro painting. 5/4, 7/4, 9/8 are some of the less-than-common time signatures in the songs.
posted by forrest at 1:39 PM on August 14, 2006


Meshuggah are the kings of time signature changes. They do some amazingly weird stuff. Obviously due to this, the death metal vocals, and the 15 minute songs I guess they're not to all tastes :D

I'd check them out if you're into weird stuff though.
posted by chrispy108 at 1:45 PM on August 14, 2006


A lot of Beatles tunes.

Which ones?


Pretty much none. She Said She Said has a verse in 4 and a bridge in 3. A couple other songs do that, too. All You Need Is Love alternates bars of 3 and 4. But The Beatles didn't really write in odd time signatures, or even in triple meter very often.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:45 PM on August 14, 2006


Thanks for the answer to my questions. So out of further curiousity I took this wiki page on Metre which includes an ogg of Take Five piano intro, which I learn is in 5/4

So I listen an follow the piano (disregard drums etc) and I hear (where ta is one note strike on the piano) from the very beginning

ta-ta ta-ta /tada
ta-ta ta-ta / tada

the piano loops..so I start a "scale" with my hand tapping all the finger from left to right and indeed it feels like on the fifth hit it loops..so far what did I do ? :D except a lot of confusion
posted by elpapacito at 4:24 PM on August 14, 2006


ludwig_van: the beatles did a lot of breaks into weird time signatures, usually just for a bar or two at a time (hardly ever a whole song though, you're right). for example, the introductory vocal line in each chorus of "don't let me down" is a bar of 5/4 in an otherwise 4/4 song. "she's so heavy" alternates 4/4 and 6/8. drive my car starts with a bar of 7/8 (that introductory guitar riff).

here's a list i came up with recently when this topic came up on an electronic music forum:

-almost any mahvishnu orchestra track is in odd signatures. they like 5/4 and 9/8 a lot.
-most venetian snares tracks are in 7/4 or 7/8, depending on what you consider the tempo to be.
-radiohead, morning bell (kid a version): 5/4; everything in it's right place: 5/4; pyramid song is something like 3/4 to 5/4 to 5/4 to 3/4 (but it's really syncopated....it's a tricky one to find the downbeats in); paranoid android is mostly 4/4 with a break in 7/8 (during johnny's guitar freakout)
-the beatles, all you need is love: 7/4
-pavement: 5/4=unity is basically a riff on take five, with a break in 3/4
-blondie, heart of glass: 4/4, but has a break in 7/4.
-lots of 7/8 and 5/8 on sufjan stevens illinois: come on feel the illinoise is in 5/8 at the beginning, but switches to 4/4 at the break.
-sunny day real estate: the song 5/4 is in, you guessed it, 5/4.
posted by cathodeheart at 8:42 PM on August 14, 2006


Radiohead's Pyramid Song is actually in 4/4, with accents in strange places. I swear to God. Listen to when the drums come in.

ludwig_van, 7/4 time IS simply a measure of 4/4 followed by a measure of 3/4 - or vice versa. So the verses of All You Need Is Love are truly in 7/4 time.

More fundamentally, pretty much all music can be broken down into groups of 2 and/or 3. 7/4 is either 2 + 2 + 3, or 3 + 2 + 2, or, less common, 2 + 3 + 2. 6/4 is either 3 + 3, or 2 + 2 + 2. So for people trying to figure out weird time signatures, it can be easier to hear smaller groups of beats (2s and 3s) as opposed 5s, 7s, 11s, 8s, what-have-you.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:01 PM on August 14, 2006


bugbread, the lower number in a time signature can only be one of a few numbers - 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64. What people usually say this number means is "the kind of note that gets the beat". I've always found that wording to be extremely awkward, but I'll take a stab at explaining it in more laymen's terms.

What you need to understand first is that, in written music, there are only notes of certain durations - whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes, etc. No such thing as a "third" note, or a "sixth" note. I'm not sure how this convention arose, but it IS the convention.

The first number in a time signature - 4/4, 3/8, etc - tells you how many beats there are in a measure. When you want to write out the music - actually commit it to paper in proper music notation - you need to know what kind of the available notes equals one beat - in other words, in a measure of 4/4 music, there are 4 quarter notes. In a measure of 3/4 music, there are 3 quarter notes. In a measure of 3/8 music, there are one and a half quarter notes. In a measure of 4/8 music, there are 2 quarter notes, or 4 eight notes.

The second number in a time signature for the most part only pertains to the way the music is written, although there is some connection between tempo and the way something is written out.

I don't know if this explanation helped, but I wanted to give it a stab. I teach music a lot, and I've always found this topic to be amazingly difficult to verbalize, although it is incredibly fundamental and not really THAT difficult, once you get it.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:12 PM on August 14, 2006


re: pyramid song

the overall progression is 16 beats, but it's broken down into non-4 increments. so yeah, you could write it out in 4/4, but the drum and piano downbeats (and chord changes) don't happen 4 beats apart, so it would probably be awkward to read. not that shifting time signatures aren't awkward...

i think it's one of those cases where it could be written multiple ways, depending on if you want to group it by how the phrasing works, or if you want it to be in common time with some rhythmic trickery.
posted by cathodeheart at 11:41 PM on August 14, 2006


i'm a bit late here...
thanksgiving by Poi Dog Pondering
posted by medium format at 3:55 AM on August 15, 2006


fingers_of_fire:

That's the way I understood it. What I don't understand, though, is how someone can say "That's in 6/8, not 6/4". I mean, unless you have the sheet music, how can you know if it's a 160 BPM song in 6/4, or an 80 BPM song in 6/8? Or, as relates to "Hey Ya", how did people determine that it was in blocks of 4/8 with a block of 2/8, instead of blocks of 4/4 with a block of 2/4?
posted by Bugbread at 5:46 AM on August 15, 2006


The short answer is that I don't really know. But I can think of two examples - "All Blues", by Miles Davis, which is in 6/8, versus "West Coast Blues", by Wes Montgomery, which is in 6/4. The former feels like two groups of three, each of which has been broken into three groups - ie, one-two-three-four-five-six, whereas the latter feels more like six even beats. A lot of it has to do with emphasis.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:20 AM on August 15, 2006


I'm really late on here, but I like the way that this has turned into a theoretical discussion. Actually it's very easy to get bogged down in this but there really is no way to really, truly know whether a song/piece of music is in 6/8 or 6/4 (to use the above example) without seeing it written down (if it is notated music, and not just the surmise of a transcriber.) There are of course logical ways to decide if the music should be in 1/4 notes or 1/8th notes (the faster the music the more logical a smaller note value is). Likewise there's no way to know aurally if music is in 4/4 and 3/4 or just 7/4 (and that really doesn't make much difference either way) but there are certain conventions and this that make things easier to read for a musician. However these conventions are about as strict as spelling conventions in the English language and there are plenty of good examples of pieces in the classical orchestral repertoire that use very fast 1/4 notes when aurally (and visually) it would make much more sense to use shorter note values. Musicologists have various explanations as to why these particular seemingly illogical note-value choices were made, but the fact remains that they were. This is basically a long-winded way of saying not to worry too much about note-value choices.
posted by ob at 8:59 AM on August 15, 2006


fingers : I am trying to understand as well. So I learned that a "measure" is just a segment of a the duration of a song ; any song can contain a number of "measures" and the sum all of measures is the total lenght of song. One can just imagine time as a continuous line divided in segments which is the same as bars or measures (just synonyms)

Now a measure/bar can contain any number of beats, and to learn how many I need to read the time signature (TS) ; the numerator of the TS tells me there are, for instance, 3 beats in each measure (3/4) and that each beat has the duration of 1/4 of a note (hence the denominator 4).

Given that a Quarter Note is played for 1/4 the duration of a note, the actual time spent playing the Quarter note is 1/4 the lengh of a whole note.

Or so it seems to me now, starts to make some sense. Still doesn't help me understanding the rythm, following it or keeping it accurately :)
posted by elpapacito at 9:34 AM on August 15, 2006


elpapacito, just to wade in here, I wouldn't worry to much at this stage about the denominator, the most important thing that you need to know in order to understand the basic rhythm of a piece or music at this stage is the top figure.
posted by ob at 9:46 AM on August 15, 2006


I don't know why I wrote "at this stage" twice. Sorry about that...
posted by ob at 9:48 AM on August 15, 2006


sounds right to me, elpapacito, although I would caution you about one thing in particular, and that is that there is no universal unit of rhythm in music. We use terms like whole note, quarter note, etc., and you are absolutely right about the relationship of those two things to one another. However, the length of a whole note in one piece of music can be radically different from the length of a whole note in another. In a piece of music that's in 3/4, a whole note can't exist (because you can't have one note that in and of itself last longer than a measure. To do that, you have to tie two notes together). In 4/4 time, a whole note is, obviously, an entire (whole, as it were ;-) ) measure.

So just be careful about your wording - "a Quarter Note is played for 1/4 the duration of a note". Strictly speaking, this isn't true - a quarter note is 25% the duration of a whole note - but that whole note is different in different pieces, depending on the time signature.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:48 AM on August 15, 2006


cathodeheart, although I'm a little on the fence, I think I'm inclined to say that the proper way to write out Pyramid Song is in 4/4. I'm not saying that you can't write it out other ways, I just think that it would be unnecessarily clumsy and, as such, incorrect. They are simply using rhythms that go over the barline - in other words, rhythms whose contours do not correspond with the even divisions of the bars. This is perfectly kosher - and, imo, completely ingenious, when done well, as it is here and in the hands of many Jazz improvisers. Still - that does NOT make it a different time signature.

It's a great reminder that music needn't be in weird time signatures in order to be rhythmically fascinating. Of course, it also helps when you have Thom Yorke singing over top of it all ;-)...
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:53 AM on August 15, 2006


but there really is no way to really, truly know whether a song/piece of music is in 6/8 or 6/4

No, I'm pretty sure that 6/4 is always 2+4 or 4+2, while 6/8 is 3+3.

And 7/4 can be 2+3+2, which is not equivalent to alternating bars of 3 and 4. But I'll give you that you could write All You Need is Love in 7, although I've never seen it notated that way.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:37 AM on August 16, 2006


A lot of Beatles tunes.

Which ones?


That same Wikipedia link has some examples. The most obvious one is All You Need is Love, which switches between 4/4 and 3/4 to create a 7/4 rhythm. I don't think they have any songs which stay in an additive rhythm throughout the entire song (except for Revolution 9, if you count that).
posted by rottytooth at 7:01 AM on August 16, 2006


Way late here, but PJ Harvey's Dry has several songs in odd time signatures. Listening to a few quick snippets of it just now, it sounds like "Water" and "Hair" are in 5/4 and "Fountain" is in 7/4. She seems to have given up on the odd time signatures on later albums.
posted by klausness at 2:57 AM on August 17, 2006


One Line by PJ Harvey is in 7 as well.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:48 AM on August 17, 2006


That is, can we say that something in 22/8 is in 11/4? Can I say that Money is in 3.5/2, or 14/8?

Sometimes, the differences between time signatures such as 2/4 and 4/8 are very minimal and have mostly to do with notation. However, more often the differences are fairly substantial. For instance, 6/8 and 3/4, while equivalent as fractions, are substantially different as musical meters--6/8 is generally grouped in 2 groups of 3, giving 2 beats per bar; but 3/4 is grouped in 3 groups of 2, giving 3 beats per bar. Very different, in that instance. 22/8 and 11/4 could have much more substantial differences, as 11/4 indicates a grouping of 11 duple-subdivision beats. 22/8, however, is a complex asymmetrical meter, and may shift the length of its beats by alternating beats with a duple subdivision, with beats that have a triple one--like this: 1-&-2-&-3-&-&-4-&-etc. 5/8 and 7/8 are like this also, with beats of uneven length. As such, the meter of 22/8 implies much more fluidity in the metric groupings than 11/4 does.

This Hey Ya controversy is baffling to me--do no music journalists actually know anything about music? Hey Ya clearly has a 6-bar phrase structure: 3 bars of 4; 1 bar of 2; two bars of 4. That's 22 beats, yes, but to say it's in 11/4 (or groups of 11 beats at all) is absurd and ignores where the giant, obvious downbeats are. Any other foolishness about metric complexity in Hey Ya is dilletante wankery--it's pretty clear what the pattern is.

(It is an unusual grouping for pop music in two ways: the six-bar phrase (normally 8) with its truncated fourth bar. That little 2/4 bar is what makes the tune really pop, IMO.)
posted by LooseFilter at 11:06 PM on August 17, 2006


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