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View Full Version : Because 4/4 is boring! Interesting Time Signatures


Tangent Vector
10-04-2012, 09:54 AM
What music can you think of (ideally stuff you actually like) that uses something other than the ubiquitous 4/4 meter?

I'll get the ball rolling...

Bob Dylan - The Times They Are a-Changin' (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCWdCKPtnYE) (3/4)
Gustav Holst - The Planets - Mars: Bringer of War (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0bcRCCg01I) (5/4)
The Beatles - All You Need Is Love (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4p8qxGbpOk) and We Can Work It Out (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g--Vlij1X1Y) vary up the time signature between 3/4 and 4/4.
Venetian Snares - This has been my big musical obsession for about two years now, and almost everything is in an odd-numbered time signature (usually 7/4 or 11/-). Öngyilkos Vasárnap (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3QAqJAfBjN8) (7/4) is probably a good mellow example for people who aren't breakcore/glitchcore fans.


I mentioned this long ago in the electronic music thread that disappeared during The Great Board Reorganization, but I'm really saddened that most electronic/IDM music is in staid, boring old 4/4.

Olli T
10-04-2012, 10:03 AM
The first song that came to mind was this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oi4G6UmYK9U&feature=related)

The Raider Dr. Jones
10-04-2012, 10:08 AM
An old fave in 5/4 time, the theme from Mission: Impossible (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mI9KhPJ-utE).

Sarcasmorator
10-04-2012, 10:12 AM
15 Step (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WedRDYmtvX4) by Radiohead, also 5/4.

mr_bungle700
10-04-2012, 10:34 AM
If you want to hear people get downright wacky with time signatures, check out some random percussion ensemble performances. I've got a piece in my hands right now that goes:

12/8
9/8
6/8
12/8
9/8
12/8
9/8
12/8

In the span of twelve measures.

There's also some 3/8, 2/4, 3/4, 5/8, 2/2, and finally a good old fashioned 4/4 section just for the heck of it.

It's actually really fun to count!

The first song that came to mind was this (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oi4G6UmYK9U&feature=related)

This was not the first thing that came to my mind (that would be "Take Five" (http://youtu.be/faJE92phKzI)), but it is awesome.

Mint
10-04-2012, 10:37 AM
AOTKPTA by The Locust (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37GOdU-gUAw) starts out in 17/8.

The intro clapping segment of Pat Metheney's First Circle (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcXEkg26d-I) is in 10+12/8.

And I'm not entirely sure what time signature When The Catholic Girls Go Camping, The Nicotine Vampires Rule Supreme (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZqZCS0rCmE) by Giraffes? Giraffes! is in, but it's pretty insane.

mr_bungle700
10-04-2012, 10:40 AM
Giraffes? Giraffes!

Amazing band name.

Sprite
10-04-2012, 11:08 AM
Is 3/4 really considered out of the ordinary? I find that idea kind of depressing.
This was not the first thing that came to my mind (that would be "Take Five" (http://youtu.be/faJE92phKzI)), but it is awesome.
"Take Five" is also awesome.

"Jack's Obsession" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=REsycYJMZEs) is the song that comes to my mind.

Tangent Vector
10-04-2012, 11:21 AM
Is 3/4 really considered out of the ordinary? I find that idea kind of depressing.

Yes, it is depressing, and it shouldn't be out of the ordinary, since our brains parse triples just as easily as common time. Given the (apparent) sorry state of metric complexity in modern popular music, I thought it best to just say "anything that isn't 4/4."

If you want to hear people get downright wacky with time signatures, check out some random percussion ensemble performances.

Even outside of percussion, this is pretty much the norm for anybody doing "serious" art music performance. My high school orchestra director was fairly into avant garde music, and I remember once having to sight-read a piece that switched up 3/4, 5/4, and 2/4 almost every measure.

Bongo Bill
10-04-2012, 11:41 AM
Dave Brubeck, my favorite jazzman, made two entire albums out of this. Take Five was mentioned above, but only very slightly less famous is Blue Rondo a la Turk (http://youtu.be/kc34Uj8wlmE), which is in 9/8. Unsquare Dance (http://youtu.be/NDB4K5zCcfk) is famously in 7/4, which anyone can tell you is hard to dance to. Tritonis (http://youtu.be/CMGW3VbOi5I) is also in 5/4, and is even more conspicuously quirky than Take Five because it uses an unconventional mode as well as an unconventional time signature. But I think what takes the cake is Eleven Four (http://youtu.be/-Ga4IBcQBFc) (not my favorite recording of it), which took me several listens to finally understand due to its accurate and self-explanatory title.

Olli T
10-04-2012, 01:48 PM
Red Fang's Prehistoric Dog (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuRKRFjm-HA) goes between 7/8 and 8/8 unless I'm mistaken. Red Fang is pretty great and you should listen to them if you like rock!

I'm not a huge fan of Dillinger Escape Plan's (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEDlO-jRNZo) hardcore stylings, but I have to appreciate their crafty songwriting skills.

Googleshng
10-04-2012, 01:53 PM
AOTKPTA by The Locust (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37GOdU-gUAw) starts out in 17/8.

And oddly enough, it's not unique in that regard! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbdyWSZ4sN0)

Olli T
10-04-2012, 02:01 PM
And oddly enough, it's not unique in that regard! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbdyWSZ4sN0)

I suspect it's not even that rare - just count to 8 twice in a row and then one more and start over again.

MagFlare
10-04-2012, 02:14 PM
Jonathan Coulton's "Creepy Doll" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0t7ZTzylg0) varies between 4/4 and 6/4.

"There She Is" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2SF9e23ApQ) from the Portal 2 soundtrack is in 6/8.

Much of "I Am the Doctor" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5D-QPDGhCtM) is in 7/8.

Parish
10-04-2012, 02:49 PM
"King Crimson is the one band you could play in 13/8 with yet stay in a five star hotel." -- Bill Bruford

Unfortunately I don't know from time signatures so I can't give examples, but Discipline (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO2BIf12xnQ) is kind of amazing for the way everyone appears to be playing in a separate time signature only to come together for a moment before breaking apart again.

Best YouTube comment: "As a drummer trying to count the time signature, I can absolutely say 'Fuck me.'"

MCBanjoMike
10-05-2012, 06:19 AM
Red Fang's Prehistoric Dog (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuRKRFjm-HA) goes between 7/8 and 8/8 unless I'm mistaken. Red Fang is pretty great and you should listen to them if you like rock!

I think that's actually 6/8 with the occasional bar of 9/8 thrown in for good measure. ha ha

Tangent Vector
10-05-2012, 08:59 AM
Here's one you've probably all heard:
Hirokazu "Hip" Tanaka - Norfair (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2RgpGAKXkJY) (Metroid 1). The opening phrases are effectively in 13/4 (three bars of 3/4 and one of 4/4). The extra beat is part of what gives it that stumbling, off-balance feel.

Discipline (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bO2BIf12xnQ)
"Fuck me" indeed! A bit of searching gave me this breakdown:
During the song the two guitars of Belew and Fripp, respectively, move through the following sequence of pairs of time signatures: 5/8 and 5/8, 5/8 and 4/4, 5/8 and 9/8, 15/16 and 15/16, … and 14/16. Throughout the drums play in 17/16.

Olli T
10-05-2012, 09:51 AM
I think that's actually 6/8 with the occasional bar of 9/8 thrown in for good measure. ha ha

You're probably right.

ozacrot
10-05-2012, 10:42 AM
Three tunes, all off the Dismemberment Plan's Emergency and I:

Memory Machine (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BssBdDRJx_w) - 5/4
Spider In the Snow (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQ4TeC4cVcg) - 7/4
Gyroscope (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yn5BH8agIs) - Alternating 4/4 and 7/8 (Effectively 7.5/4 - real dick move, guys)

ozacrot
10-05-2012, 10:48 AM
I mentioned this long ago in the electronic music thread that disappeared during The Great Board Reorganization, but I'm really saddened that most electronic/IDM music is in staid, boring old 4/4.

I would recommend checking out Disasterpeace. (http://disasterpeace.com/album/rise-of-the-obsidian-interstellar) Chiptuney, hopefully that is not an issue.

Ted
10-05-2012, 10:49 AM
Soundgarden immediately comes to mind. "Limo Wreck" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynxDgUtzQ8Y) is one of my favorites.

Einstürzende Neubauten - NNNAAAMMM (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnfJU7w9ohQ) (the first minute or so is sufficient to get the idea)

Tangent Vector
10-05-2012, 10:58 AM
Soundgarden immediately comes to mind.
Also the well-known Spoonman (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0mYZswIU5M).

I would recommend checking out Disasterpeace. (http://disasterpeace.com/album/rise-of-the-obsidian-interstellar) Chiptuney, hopefully that is not an issue.
Thanks! Chiptuney is not a problem for me. I'll check this out.

Edit: Currently streaming "Club Wolf" from that link. I'm liking this.

ghosttaster
10-05-2012, 11:53 AM
The song Drag Open (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkllDxT4Cio&playnext=1&list=PL8C5C861393A4F34C&feature=results_video) by Women has some weird time signature stuff going on, especially in the ending.

While I'm not neccessarily "pro 4/4" or something, I'm often bored by music with a lot of weird time signatures or time signature changes. Not a lot of bands seem to be able to pull it off without seeming forced or gimmicky.

Tangent Vector
10-05-2012, 12:10 PM
Not a lot of bands seem to be able to pull it off without seeming forced or gimmicky.
I've seen this sentiment expressed before. Are there particular examples that sound forced/gimmicky to you?

ghosttaster
10-05-2012, 12:30 PM
I've seen this sentiment expressed before. Are there particular examples that sound forced/gimmicky to you?

There are- but they're probably not very meaningful to anyone else. I think the root of my feelings on the issue come from 2 bands who used to play in my area several years ago, Arctic Groove (http://www.myspace.com/thearcticgroove) and ROYGBIV (http://rgbrva.bandcamp.com/) (that seems to be their bandcamp, but I guess they're called NAVI now. The original drummer was a beast but is no longer in the band).

Both bands have/had really cool riffs and melodic parts, but eventually devolve into this fun-with-counting, "look what good musicians we are" dribble that doesn't go anywhere. Obviously these two random local bands aren't representative of all musicians who play outside of 4/4, but...

I guess for me, I don't want to have to consciously think about an unusual time signature, or have it shoved in my face. Unless an unusual time signature can be used for a strong, specific effect, or used subtly and seamlessly, it smacks of consciously trying to be 'progressive,' which sucks.

Tangent Vector
10-05-2012, 12:39 PM
I guess for me, I don't want to have to consciously think about an unusual time signature, or have it shoved in my face. Unless an unusual time signature can be used for a strong, specific effect, or used subtly and seamlessly, it smacks of consciously trying to be 'progressive,' which sucks.
Thanks. I had kind of suspected it was something along these lines.

Personally, I usually like when a song has enough complexity (metric or otherwise) that it keeps me on my toes as a listener, and never lets me settle into a comfortable groove (the kind of thing where half your playlist flies by but you don't remember any of it).

On the flip side, like you say, there are times when having to consciously think about every beat gets exhausting, and you just want to sit down and listen. In those cases, a more deft hand is preferable.

ozacrot
10-05-2012, 01:59 PM
Totally agree. I feel like most of the time (though not always, per earlier examples), odd time signatures function better when they're imperceptible. The Beatles were great at this. Once the riff or the progression becomes about its meter, though, I feel like that becomes a distraction from every other aspect of the music. I have a number of musical friends, but my best friend is maybe the most annoying to play with. He's got a great ear for melody, but inevitably his songs will end up with a bridge in 5.5/4, and I get really frustrated not just keeping up with him, but with his routine decision not to communicate musically. You know? (Not to speak against his right to write - it's just that he talks about playing out, and I don't want to be in a band that does what I don't want to do.)

Matchstick
10-05-2012, 09:21 PM
The one most people have probably heard is Money (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpbbuaIA3Ds), which is 7/4.

Porcupine Tree's Sound of Muzak (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hp0OXICuZek) is also in 7/4.

Dream Theater plays a lot with time signatures, obviously. Beyond this Life (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQYZMRZ18Fg) is in 5/4 much of the time, but it bounces around as well.

Sanagi
10-06-2012, 01:09 AM
I love weird time signatures when they get into a dance-able groove that you couldn't hear in 3/4 or 4/4. In video games they tend to be used to express fear, such as in major boss battles. Some examples...

Five: Most of Ridley's theme, Don't Be Afraid from FF8, the last world map music from Secret of Mana

Seven: Mother Brain's theme from Super Metroid, Another World of Beasts from FF6, as well as parts of Kefka's final battle theme. Another World of Beasts (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVFq1mjcdP0) is a great example for non-musicians because you can easily count the cycles of seven in the harp arpeggios.

Nine: The freaky battle music from Chrono Cross - it breaks up into three plus two plus two plus two, the reverse of Dave Brubeck's classic Rondo a la Turk.

Thirteen: Ganon's final boss fight from Link to the Past.

Incidentally, I've been writing an analysis of the entirety of FF6's soundtrack, for those who might be interested...

Dave Brubeck, my favorite jazzman, made two entire albums out of this.
Five. (http://www.amazon.com/Original-Album-Classics-TIME-CD/dp/B003924NZ4) But Time Out and Time Further Out are the best ones.

mr_bungle700
10-06-2012, 01:30 AM
Incidentally, I've been writing an analysis of the entirety of FF6's soundtrack, for those who might be interested...

This guy.

This guy might be interested.

Shagohod
10-06-2012, 01:44 AM
All these words, and not one mention of YYZ or Rush.

For shame TT

Meditative_Zebra
10-06-2012, 01:48 AM
Dream Theater plays a lot with time signatures, obviously. Beyond this Life (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQYZMRZ18Fg) is in 5/4 much of the time, but it bounces around as well.

Modern progressive rock/progressive metal in general likes to go through all sorts of crazy time signatures and Dream Theater in particular likes to do so. Dance of Eternity (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dSztjpJNNk) highlights 'em going into a crazy/wanky instrumental.

narcodis
10-06-2012, 03:21 AM
I made a song in 5/4! (http://twinplus.bandcamp.com/track/slave-potential)

Influenced pretty heavily by other post-hardcore songs like this 7/8 song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXM3D2iEGjw). (in fact, pretty blatantly ripped off)

Odin
10-06-2012, 05:21 AM
Incidentally, I've been writing an analysis of the entirety of FF6's soundtrack, for those who might be interested...


This guy is also interested.

Pheeel
10-06-2012, 09:02 AM
I agree it's a bit easy just to name tracks by prog or math-rock bands, as most progressive/avant garde groups tend to eschew conventional time signatures as a matter of course. It's sometimes more interesting to find unusual time signatures in genres where you wouldn't except them to be, such as Nick Drake applying a jazz structure to a folk song on River Man. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idcaRTg4-fM)

A few other examples that spring to mind:

John Carpenter - Halloween Main Theme (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J82gFhtMdmE)
Kate Bush - Pi (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZSHr5E7fZY)
Stevie Wonder - Contusion (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6T5q7BzpEe4)

Yimothy
10-06-2012, 10:09 AM
I guess we're talking more about popular music, but here's (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrQPN0x-Jxw) some Bartok in 7/8.

Tangent Vector
10-06-2012, 10:35 AM
Bartok is always welcome in my book. It wasn't my intention to restrict this to popular music; it's just more of a challenge to find good examples the more modern/popular you go.

On that note, though: apparently the ultra-popular Hey Ya! is effectively in 11/4. I'm not a big fan of the song, but it is impressive how natural the rhythm sounds.

mr_bungle700
10-06-2012, 12:27 PM
Oh Bartok, you so crazy (http://youtu.be/yu0AuFgvme4).

Bongo Bill
10-06-2012, 08:38 PM
More Brubeck for you! Countdown (http://youtu.be/4Vkx1uuXFqM), Unisphere (http://youtu.be/xtbW6Z-eFmU), Castilian Blues (http://youtu.be/LTkzs24_nT0), Far More Blue (http://youtu.be/snFKf08ziNE), Forty Days (http://youtu.be/OGt0gQ5hjvA), and He Done Her Wrong (http://youtu.be/ZNusE6rLDAo), just to name a few, are all in 5/4.

Meanwhile, I can't find his "World's Fair," which is in 13/4 time, on YouTube.

Mr Bean
10-06-2012, 08:52 PM
How about some Willie Nelson?

Sad Songs and Waltzes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_zPbsDViQY)

It's in 3/4 which makes perfect sense for a waltz.

ghosttaster
10-06-2012, 09:52 PM
Long Long Long (http://longlonglong.bandcamp.com/) was sort of like a weird clone-lite of Women (which was OK by me). Less abrasive and noisey, less markedly 'experimental' in tone and execution, but still retaining the abstracted approach to pop songwriting and usage of time signatures.

taosterman
10-07-2012, 11:35 AM
Turn It On Again (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StfLy3pzno0) by Genesis. Verses and choruses are in 13/8.

Healy
10-07-2012, 02:41 PM
Turn It On Again (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StfLy3pzno0) by Genesis. Verses and choruses are in 13/8.

Like, really? I would never have noticed. It all sounds so natural! Also, are you including the "turn it on, turn it on turn it on again" refrain at the end as a chorus?

taosterman
10-07-2012, 04:01 PM
Like, really? I would never have noticed. It all sounds so natural! Also, are you including the "turn it on, turn it on turn it on again" refrain at the end as a chorus?

I'm just going by Wikipedia; I find time signatures confusing. It definitely has a very off-kilter rhythm for such a catchy pop song.

mr_bungle700
10-08-2012, 02:53 AM
Also, are you including the "turn it on, turn it on turn it on again" refrain at the end as a chorus?

Yup. Though it's unlikely that the song was written with 13-beat measures, as they can be pretty unwieldy. It's more likely that it's alternating measures of 6/8 and 7/8 (or 6/4 and 7/4).

Healy
10-08-2012, 08:00 PM
Neat! I can actually see why they'd do that; it captures quite well the arrhythmic finger-tapping you do when you're bored out of your mind.

Ted
10-09-2012, 11:42 AM
I mentioned this long ago in the electronic music thread that disappeared during The Great Board Reorganization, but I'm really saddened that most electronic/IDM music is in staid, boring old 4/4.

True, but there's this gem from Plaid (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDjRbATUqlc). I find "Not For Threes" their most interesting album by far.

(And for what it's worth, I don't really get into racket-for-racket's-sake nonsense, but I find myself never skipping this whenever it pops up on shuffle: Squarepusher-Steinbolt (Unedited) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qryvNG5QQc).)

Olli T
10-13-2012, 11:17 PM
This is pretty nuts, signature-wise. Good song, too! (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPiOPad7VoA)