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Thread: Time-signature/Rhythm

  1. #1
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    Time-signature/Rhythm

    This is a subject I am rather new to. A theme I would really like to learn more about.

    I have browsed through several articles, but haven't found an article that made me happy yet.

    Are there any experts out there who are able to listen to a song for a couple of seconds, and say "Oh, the time-signature is 5/4!"? How do you do that?

    Do you got any song examples which I could explore for further understanding?

    Anything related to the subject would be appreciated, actually. I am very willing to learn about this, as I know a lot more about music theory; modes, chord/scale structure than "rhythm theory".

  2. #2
    ii-V-I skeletron's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Apple-Joe
    This is a subject I am rather new to. A theme I would really like to learn more about.

    I have browsed through several articles, but haven't found an article that made me happy yet.

    Are there any experts out there who are able to listen to a song for a couple of seconds, and say "Oh, the time-signature is 5/4!"? How do you do that?

    Do you got any song examples which I could explore for further understanding?

    Anything related to the subject would be appreciated, actually. I am very willing to learn about this, as I know a lot more about music theory; modes, chord/scale structure than "rhythm theory".




    You have to feel the groove/time in the song. Then count how many beats occur before it repeats. It shouldn't be that difficult.



    5/4 time... check out Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast". The intro section is in 5/4.

  3. #3
    Jazzman Poparad's Avatar
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    Feeling where it metrically 'repeats' itself is a big key. On some more complex and ambiguous meters, you can actually feel it a couple different ways, but with simpler lings like 5/4 it's not too hard to hear.

    Finding tunes that you know that use mixed meters and hearing them in context is key to getting a feel for them. The first very popular tune (in the 1900's) that used an odd meter was "Take 5" from Dave Brubeck's "Time Out" album. The song is in 5/4, and the whole album features jazz songs with odd meters (hence the title). Pink Floyd's "Money" is in 7/4 (you can think of it as a bar of 4 and a bar of 3). A lot of Rush's music uses mixed meter. "Tom Sawyer" is chock full of different meters.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by skeletron
    You have to feel the groove/time in the song. Then count how many beats occur before it repeats. It shouldn't be that difficult.



    5/4 time... check out Iron Maiden's "Number of the Beast". The intro section is in 5/4.
    Yes, I can understand why it is 5(/4). I hear the "5 feeling". But why 5/4? Why not 5/5?

  5. #5
    Jazzman Poparad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Apple-Joe
    Yes, I can understand why it is 5(/4). I hear the "5 feeling". But why 5/4? Why not 5/5?

    Maybe you don't quite understand the 5/4 thing as well as you think...


    The meter that we are most familiar with is 4/4 time, in which there are four beats per measure.

    Since there are four beats in a measure, then each beat would be a fourth, or a quarter of the measure. The note that has this value (1 beat), is the quarter note. This is the /4 part of time signatures.

    The denominator of a time signature can be any of the simple divisions of the bar that we use in music. Quarter notes (/4), eighth notes (/8), 16th notes (/16) etc. It can also go the other way and use halves (/2) and whole notes (/1). Whatever number is in the denominator is the note value that gets the beat (or at least is the most important part of the time signature for determining the feel).

    Therefore, you can't have /5 or /7 or /13 since they aren't basic subdivisions in music.

    The most common values for the denominator are /4 and /8.


    The numerator is what determines how many beats there are in the measure.

    When dealing with meters like 6/8, 3/8, 7/8, etc, the beat is sometimes irregular. Although the division is based around eighth notes, the beat usually isn't the eighth note itself. In 6/8, for example, it is common to feel it in two beats, with each beat being divided into three notes. In odd meters, like 5/8 or 7/8, they are frequently grouped into beats with 2 eighth notes and beats with 3 eighth notes. 7/8 is commonly divided into 2+2+3, where the first two beats have two eighth notes (like a beat in normal 4/4 time), and the third beat is divided into three, so it is an eighth note longer. The effect is that it creates a lopsided lilt to the music.

  6. #6
    Music maniac rainy_sunny's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Some Examples

    I want to mention that all these time signatures are easier to understand if you think of bar as of sum of more simple parts (5/4=3/4+2/4 or 4/4+1/4)
    Metallica "Welcome Home (sanitarium)" is in... 10/4, i think. (4/4+4/4+2/4). In chorus it's just 4/4.
    Outcast "Hey Ya": 11/4 (really strange for dance song but it works).
    The song that i can't understand is "Pyramid Song" by Radiohead. It has so strange time... At the beginning it seems thatr song has no determined meter, but when the drums come in, you understand that it is, but it's really strange...
    Most of the "2+2=5" (Radiohead) is in 7/4...

    Oh, that's enough, i think :-)

    To understand the meter of song try to count while it sounds. If that's 4/4 song, you'll count like "One, two, three, four...", if that's 3/4 - "One, two, three...".
    If it's more complex, divide it on simplier parts: like for 5/4 "One, two, three, one, two...".
    Freelove, Booze, Indie Rock :-)

  7. #7
    Jazzman Poparad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rainy_sunny
    The song that i can't understand is "Pyramid Song" by Radiohead. It has so strange time... At the beginning it seems thatr song has no determined meter, but when the drums come in, you understand that it is, but it's really strange...
    Following the harmony changes (which is usually what determines meter):
    7/8 (2+2+3), 3/4 (2+2+2), 9/8 (2+3+2+2)

    Or, for simplicity, but ignoring the harmony:
    two bars of 11/8 (2+2+3+2+2)


    Or, the palindromic way (fitting considering the title):

    7/8 (2+2+3), 4/4 (2+2+2+2), 7/8 (3+2+2)

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poparad
    Maybe you don't quite understand the 5/4 thing as well as you think...


    The meter that we are most familiar with is 4/4 time, in which there are four beats per measure.

    Since there are four beats in a measure, then each beat would be a fourth, or a quarter of the measure. The note that has this value (1 beat), is the quarter note. This is the /4 part of time signatures.

    The denominator of a time signature can be any of the simple divisions of the bar that we use in music. Quarter notes (/4), eighth notes (/8), 16th notes (/16) etc. It can also go the other way and use halves (/2) and whole notes (/1). Whatever number is in the denominator is the note value that gets the beat (or at least is the most important part of the time signature for determining the feel).

    Therefore, you can't have /5 or /7 or /13 since they aren't basic subdivisions in music.

    The most common values for the denominator are /4 and /8.


    The numerator is what determines how many beats there are in the measure.

    When dealing with meters like 6/8, 3/8, 7/8, etc, the beat is sometimes irregular. Although the division is based around eighth notes, the beat usually isn't the eighth note itself. In 6/8, for example, it is common to feel it in two beats, with each beat being divided into three notes. In odd meters, like 5/8 or 7/8, they are frequently grouped into beats with 2 eighth notes and beats with 3 eighth notes. 7/8 is commonly divided into 2+2+3, where the first two beats have two eighth notes (like a beat in normal 4/4 time), and the third beat is divided into three, so it is an eighth note longer. The effect is that it creates a lopsided lilt to the music.
    I see.

    This...:

    "The meter that we are most familiar with is 4/4 time, in which there are four beats per measure.

    Since there are four beats in a measure, then each beat would be a fourth, or a quarter of the measure. The note that has this value (1 beat), is the quarter note. This is the /4 part of time signatures."

    ... summed it up for me. It's all about the regular division/maths you learn somewhere in elementary school, really. I often tend to over-complicate ideas when relating it to music theory. Now, thanks a lot for the explanation. Reading this also made me aware of the fact that I have to practice 4th, 8th, 16th notes etc. It's essential knowledge when you're learning about rhythm.

  9. #9
    Music maniac rainy_sunny's Avatar
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    Thank you. Now i'll try to play it the right way.
    Freelove, Booze, Indie Rock :-)

  10. #10
    Mad Scientist forgottenking2's Avatar
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    James has a pretty awesome article on rhythms, accent displacement and meters check it out.

    http://www.ibreathemusic.com/article/101
    "If God had wanted us to play the piano he would've given us 88 fingers"

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by forgottenking2
    James has a pretty awesome article on rhythms, accent displacement and meters check it out.

    http://www.ibreathemusic.com/article/101
    I am going to check it out. I am thankful for all resources about rhythm theory now adays. I don't understand why I haven't read anything about it earlier. Well, except spending a few minutes on 4th notes, 8th notes, etc., but not enough for remembering it.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poparad
    Therefore, you can't have /5 or /7 or /13 since they aren't basic subdivisions in music.
    I realise that they aren't used very often, but I was wondering why you can't have these as the denominator for your time signature? For example, would 2/5 not work, if you divided the value for a whole note into 5, then two of these made up the bar? I wonder if it's possible to use it to avoid changing tempo...

    I heard that Brian Ferneyhough uses time signatures like 3/10, although I've never heard any of his music (or seen the actual score for it).

    Good explanation though.

  13. #13
    I, Galactus oRg's Avatar
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    Well normally you would notate something like that in a polyrhythm in a simpler time signature.
    v2sw3CUhw6ln3pr6OFck3ma9u6Lw3Xm6l6Ui2Ne5t5TSFDAb8T DOen7g6RZATHCMHPa21s6MSr53Dp3hackerkey

  14. #14
    Jazzman Poparad's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by azathoth
    I realise that they aren't used very often, but I was wondering why you can't have these as the denominator for your time signature? For example, would 2/5 not work, if you divided the value for a whole note into 5, then two of these made up the bar? I wonder if it's possible to use it to avoid changing tempo...

    I heard that Brian Ferneyhough uses time signatures like 3/10, although I've never heard any of his music (or seen the actual score for it).

    Good explanation though.
    The reason we don't have things like that is because it's just impractical to the performer. If you had to switch from 4/4 to 3/5 time, could you do it? Most likely no. Also, if you were to have such a thing as 3/5 time, the first subdivision of the beat (dividing into 2) would be a mess, because you would have to notate it as a 1/10th note. All of these complex divisions would need some sort of polyrhythmic label, like "10:8" written overtop to indicate a 1/10th note, and who where can accurately play a 10:8 polyrhythm?

    Hopefully you can see how messy that would quickly become not only on paper but also in conceptualization and simply being able to feel those metric divisions.

    Standard notation is based around simple prime divisions, such as 1, 2, and 3. All other note values are multiples of those: 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, etc. While there are 5:4 and 7:4 polyrhtyhms, they are very hard to feel and are only commonly found in the most complicated and sophisticated rhythmic music: 20th century classical music and traditional African music.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poparad
    The reason we don't have things like that is because it's just impractical to the performer. If you had to switch from 4/4 to 3/5 time, could you do it? Most likely no. Also, if you were to have such a thing as 3/5 time, the first subdivision of the beat (dividing into 2) would be a mess, because you would have to notate it as a 1/10th note. All of these complex divisions would need some sort of polyrhythmic label, like "10:8" written overtop to indicate a 1/10th note, and who where can accurately play a 10:8 polyrhythm?

    Hopefully you can see how messy that would quickly become not only on paper but also in conceptualization and simply being able to feel those metric divisions.

    Standard notation is based around simple prime divisions, such as 1, 2, and 3. All other note values are multiples of those: 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, etc. While there are 5:4 and 7:4 polyrhtyhms, they are very hard to feel and are only commonly found in the most complicated and sophisticated rhythmic music: 20th century classical music and traditional African music.
    Okay, I see what you mean, thanks for clearing that up for me.

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