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"At this very moment, on stage, we have drummer A playing in 7/8, drummer B playing in 3/4, the bass playing in 3/4, the organ playing in 5/8, the tambourine playing in 3/4, and the alto sax blowing his nose."
In music, the most encountered time signature is 4/4, boring old Common Time. There's also 2/4 and 2/2, "cut time," which aren't too much different - all the bars still divide evenly into two. 3/4, sometimes called "Waltz Time", is also fairly intuitive- if you've ever been taught to dance by counting "step, two, three, step, two, three" then you know how it works. You can start mixing the twos up with threes and get 6/4, 3/2, 6/8, 9/8 and such, which don't have the same rhythms as Common Time, but can still be counted out fairly easily.
Music in Uncommon Time, however, does away with regular meters, and instead opts for totally unconventional rhythms that mix twos and threes with abandon. This can be done by choosing an oddball time signature such as 5/4 or 7/8 that can't be divided regularly into twos and threes, and/or by switching time signatures rapidly and seemingly at random.
How Time Signatures Work
- The "top" number of a time signature indicates how many beats are in a measure, and the bottom number indicates the length of the beat, as determined by how many multiples of the beat make up a semibreve (whole note). For example, a 4/4 time signature means "four beats per measure, counted in quarter notes." As such, the top number is usually what makes a difference: a song that's in 4/4 will sound more-or-less the same as a song that's in 4/2 because both of them go "one two three four", even though it'll look longer on paper. Likewise, a song in 4/4 is not the same as a song in 2/2, because while each measure has the same "duration" (4 x 0.25 versus 2 x 0.5), a 2/2 song only has two beats ("One, Two, One, Two..."). (And "duration" is a relative term anyhow since a song in 4/4 can be played super-slow and a song in 2/2 super-fast, or vice-versa.)
- Time signatures are conventionally divided into simple, compound, and irregular. In a simple time signature, each beat is subdivided into two—thus, a simple duple meter might be 2/4 (1 and 2 and) and a simple triple meter might be 3/4 (1 and 2 and 3 and). In a compound time signature, each beat is subdivided into three—compound duple meter being 1 and a 2 and a, complex triple being 1 and a 2 and a 3 and a, etc. These time signatures are often written as 3/8, 6/8, 9/8, etc, which may seem somewhat counterintuitive; a 6/8 bar is the same length as a 3/4 bar and may look visually similar, but they sound nothing alike. For audialization purposes it might help to divide top and bottom of a compound time signature by 3 — 6/8 is more properly understood as 2/2.666..., but fractional notation never caught on.
- Irregular time signatures are those that are not evenly divided, and as such fall within the purview of this trope. For example, 5/8 can be divided into 2 + 3 or 3 + 2. As a rule, any time signature where the top number is not a multiple of 2 or 3 will be irregular. There are, however, a number of regular-looking time signatures that are often irregularly divided: 8/8, for example, is commonly divided in folk music into 3 + 2 + 3 or 3 + 3 + 2. Sometimes these will be notated in the score, e.g. as 3+3+2/8, to avoid confusion.
- Finally, there are irrational time signatures. These are time signatures in which the beat is a tuplet—i.e. an equal subdivision of the semibreve that is not divisible by two. For example, a piece may call for 4/5 — four quintuplet crochets (where five quintuplets equal four regular crochets) per bar. Since this in practice means simply a brief increase in tempo by 120%, irrational time signatures are only useful as occasional, brief "metric modulations" and rarely show up outside the most esoteric works of experimental music. There would be no point to writing a whole song in 4/5; you could as easily notate it in 4/4 at a hundred and twenty percent of the speed and without giving musicians huge headaches.
- And there is music in no time signature at all, mostly written before 1600 (in the days of mensural notation).
Also realize that a pattern of several different time signatures (such as 3 bars of 4/4 and one of 2/4) are not usually combined and called by the combined time (14/4 in the example given). This is mostly because musicians rely on bar lines as a visual navigation aid; very large measures are easy to get lost in (and hard to fit on a single piece of paper!). So although unique combinations of time signatures are Uncommon Time, your musicians will hate you if you combine them into something like 27/4.
- 1 Examples in Music Genres
- 2 Examples In Other Media
Examples in Music Genres
- Many ancient hymns and chants don't even use time signatures. As a result, some have really weird settings where each line might have, say, 4 1/2 beats.
- Overall, it's become almost ridiculously common for modern hymn composers to jump all over the place with time signatures:
- "Waterlife", a hymn composed by Handt Hanson, is in 7/4 on the verses.
- "Look There! The Christ, Our Brother Stands", by John Bennett, has two melodies in the Episcopalian The Hymnal 1982. The first tune, by William Albright, has the right hand playing an 11/8 ostinato over a verse that starts in 5/4 but switches to 4/4 partway through.
- And many more of the newly composed tunes in the same book will lack time signatures entirely, but have bars that are obviously meant to be treated as something like 5/4 or 7/4 when all the other stanzas are 4/4.
- Josh Groban's "In Her Eyes" is 5/4 time.
- Igor Stravinsky loved changing time signatures almost every measure. "The Rite of Spring" is a good example of him playing havoc with time signatures: "The Naming and Honoring of the Chosen One" changes, in consecutive measures, from 9/8 to 5/8 to 7/8 to 3/8 to 4/8 to 7/4 to 3/4.
- The "resurrection" sequence that begins the finale to The Firebird has several bars in 7/4 time.
- The finale of Borodin's Symphony No. 2 alternates bars of 3/4 and 2/4 in its main theme.
- And "Bazaar Of The Caravans" from Kismet, which is merely the finale of Borodin's Symphony No. 2 with an overlaid vocal arrangement.
- In Gustav Holst's The Planets, "Mars" is in 5/4 and 5/2 (except for the coda, which is 3/4) and "Neptune" is entirely in 5/4. (Indeed, the movements are symmetrical (in the order presented, rather than the actual order of the planets) when it comes to time signatures)
- In a lesser known work, "Egdon Heath," he uses 7/4, a later section is in 5/4, and instead of actually writing out triplets, in the middle he puts half the orchestra in 7/4 and half in 21/8. At different points in the piece, there are also two bars of 4/4
- Raymond Deane is fond of this.
- Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms is in Hebrew and employs 6 percussionists, and that's just the beginning. The first movement is mostly in 7/4, the second in 3/4, 4/4 and then 3/4-against-4/4 (a Soprano and Gravel juxtaposition where the women sing the 23rd Psalm against men chanting at Dakka speed about war), and the final in 10/4.
- If you think the quote at the top of the page is a joke, you should talk to Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt. He has a setting of the "Veni Sancte Spiritus" text which, From 2:39 to 3:03, gives the sopranos and altos a pattern represented by one bar of 4/2 and another of 3/2, while the tenors and basses a pattern in two bars of 4/2. And all four parts begin their patterns at totally different times, meaning that measures don't necessarily start or end at the same places. The best a conductor can do at that point is give beats and then hope to God his singers can count.
- Whoever claimed it might be more intuitive to notate triplet meters as X/6 might care to glance at the score of Thomas Adès's Piano Quintet sometime. The first and last few bars are in 4/4 (not that they sound like it). In between things get a bit ... complicated. 4/5, 1/12, 3/10, 6/7.... What's more, in many places each of the five players has a completely different "irrational" time signature, synchronising with the others only occasionally. Yeah. It's somewhat surprising that it can be performed at all without coming across as a godawful polymetric mess.
- And even that doesn't compare to some of Conlon Nancarrow's music, like a player piano study in which the parts are moving at a ratio of √42 (~6.4807) to 1.
- Willson Osbourne's Rhapsody for Solo Clarinet has a measure in 5.5/4 time.
- Karl Jenkins' Chorale (sol-fa) + Cantus 'Song of Aeolus' is a mix of 2 songs. The result is a song, part 5/8, part 7/8 and part 4/4.
- Jami Sieber's "Long past gone" and "Tell it by heart" have alternating 12/4 and 11/4 bars.
- Robert Jager's Third Suite for Band, a perennial favorite, includes a march with a first strain in 7/4 (4 + 3) and second strain and trio in 5/4 (3 + 2) followed by a waltz in 5/4 (3 + 2).
- Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" is in 9/8 time.
- Enya commonly uses uncommon time signatures in her work, often switching them mid-song. "Book Of Days" changes time signature nearly every measure (4/4 to 3/2 to 5/4 to 2/4 to 5/4, etc...) except for the bridge which maintains the opening 4/4 time.
- Percy Aldridge Granger put the third movement of Lincolnshire Posy into 2.5/4 and the 4th movement switches between 5/8 and 7/8.
- The trope is Played With in 4'33", in that John Cage wrote it with no time signature at all.
- A common verse pattern in country music: Two 4/4 bars, a 2/4 bar and another 4/4 bar (or 2/2 and 1/2, respectively). "Just Might Have Her Radio On" by Trent Tomlinson is one example; Randy Travis' "If I Didn't Have You" and "A Different World" by Bucky Covington use the 2/2-2/2-1/2-2/2 variant.
- Dennis Linde was fond of slipping 6/4 and 7/4 bars into his usually 4/4 songs, including "Janie Baker's Love Slave" and "Heaven Bound (I'm Ready)" by Shenandoah; "Night Is Fallin' in My Heart" by Diamond Rio; "Down in a Ditch" by Joe Diffie; etc.
- "Music on the Wind" by Suzy Bogguss is in 5/4 time.
- Electronic music giants Autechre sometimes delve into unusual time signatures - "Drane" from Peel Session and "Cichli" from Chiastic Slide are in 10/4, while "777" from LP5 is 7/8. The melody from "Slip on Amber" also seems to follow an odd signature. Inexplicably, Confield, which is probably one of the weirdest albums in the world, uses common time. Gantz Graf is also very confusing, which makes it hard for some to figure out it's in innocent common time all along.
- They also have an interesting variation on polyrhythms, which assumes a straight 4/4 rhythm and expected four measures throughout the track, except for the bass drum pattern which only follows three measures, leading to interesting combinations. Listen to "Rotar" from Tri Repetae and "Cichli" from Chiastic Slide for examples.
- Autechre also like to abuse tempos. With "Teartear" (from Amber), it merely means a simple slowdown at the end of the song, but "Cap.IV" from Gantz Graf, which is in constant acceleration, nearly becomes a huge smear by the end of the track, and the rhythm in "Fold4,Wrap5" from LP5 somehow manages to constantly shift its tempo down only to return to its origin again (all while the melody seemingly keeps a steady rhythm).
- Iamamiwhoami's "u-2," part of the "To whom it may concern." series, is in 7/4 time.
- Venetian Snares is the all-time king of this, having used it so much he damn near inverts it. How crazy does he get? "Nineteen 1319" is written in 13/4 and 19/7 time.
- For him, Common Time is the least common signature—he prefers 7/4.
- He appears to have a follower in Scottish musician Acrnym.
- "Polyrhythm" by Perfume. The bridge has 5/8 and 6/8 (vocal parts) over 4/4 (the drumbeat), then to 3/2 after the vocal 'hiccups'; the low synth has a 7:6 polyrhythm. It was such a radical song for what is essentially an Idol Group that the company initially requested that the bridge be cut altogether. The song's composer (and Record Producer) Yasutaka Nakata saw that the song was allowed to stand as is (although a radio edit version was made in concession), and it became Perfume's first top ten hit.
- The aforementioned Autechre and Venetian Snares have actually collaborated on a track titled "Elephant Gear" under the alias "AEVSVS" as part of a compilation of tracks in memory of Elektron co-founder Daniel Hansson. Naturally, the track was in uncommon time, specifically 5/4.
- The song "Good-N-Evil" from Traci Lords' album "1000 Fires" is a 7/8 song given a four-on-the-floor rhythm, which makes the meter sound like 3.5/4.
- The title track of Lazerhawk's Visitors has a 5/4 bassline against a 4/4 beat, while "The Voyage" alternates between 3*7/8 and 4/4, basically the "Tubular Bells" rhythm minus a half-beat.
- "Punchinello" by Mr. 76ix is in 14/16, which is not the same as 7/8 since it is divided differently: 2/4 + 2*3/16 rather than 2/4 +3/8.
Folk and Blues
- Vienna Teng's "Harbor", which is in 5/8 when it's not in 6/8, 3+3+2/8 (which is not the same as 8/8 due to the location of the stresses) or 7/8.
- A lesser-known but better example is "Signal Fire", ostensibly a 5/4 piece that changes meter at the drop of a hat.
- And the opener from her most recent album, "The Last Snowfall," is in a steady 5/4.
- Bulgarian music is really big on difficult time signatures. Here is an example of traditional folk dancing in 11/16, 7/8, 12/8 and 8/8, roughly in this order.
- Nickel Creek's "In the House of Tom Bombadil" has a recurring bridge that is either played in 9/8 or 9/4 time, made more interesting by the occurance of a single 4/4 bar at the beginning of every repetition of the motif.
- Sufjan Stevens loves this trope. You'll hear it several times per album, sometimes even per song.
- Bert Jansch was notorious for fitting the music to his lyrics, rather than the more common lyrics to music. As a result many of his songs veer off wildly into odd time signatures just for that one line, with little logic or reason aside from "it sounds better".
- For added fun, the Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon song "The Collins Missile" has the vocals in 4/4 but the music in 5/4, such that the point at which the vocals come in constantly shifts.
- Done rather oddly with the Gorillaz song "5/4" - the opening guitar riff is, indeed, in 5/4 time, but when the drums kick in they are in a much slower 4/4 time, so that the measures are of identical length.
- Eminem's "Underground" is in 5/8.
- The "time studies" of the Dave Brubeck Quartet use unconventional time signatures.
- "Take Five", "Countdown" and "Castilian Blues" are in 5/4;
- "Three's A Crowd" and "Unsquare Dance" are in 7/4;
- "Eleven Four" is Exactly What It Says on the Tin (to be more precise, [3+ 2+ 3+ 3]/4).
- The outer sections of "Blue Rondo A La Turk" are in [2+ 2+ 2+ 3]/8 (the improvised middle section is in Common Time).
- "Three To Get Ready" alternates between 3/4 and 4/4 every two bars.
- "Take Five" is both the Ur Example of this trope in pop music (coming a decade or more before Prog Rock and even the Beatles' temporal experiments) and the Trope Maker for a new genre of jazz: despite the Uncommon Time, its rhythm is simple enough that a lot of jazz songs have copied it since. In the '50s, this was groundbreaking.
- They did do a piece in 4/4 on one of those records, the joke being that the piece promptly turns into a waltz in 3/4.
- It's actually worse than that — "Kathy's Waltz" features a saxophone solo by Paul Desmond in waltz time with the drummer (Joe Morello) playing 6/8 behind him, then segues into a waltz-time piano solo by Brubeck that suddenly breaks into a 4/4 swing right in the middle, with Eugene Wright playing bass in 3/4 while Morello continues to play 6/8... it has to be heard to be believed.
- Jazz musician and arranger Don Ellis was known for his use of unorthodox time signatures. His Electric Bath album featured charts in 5/4 ("Indian Lady"), 7/4 ("Turkish Bath"), and 17/4 ("New Horizons"). A later chart, "Niner Two" is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- As is "33 222 1 222", in 19/4.
"The first number we have is one that is based in what we call the 'traditional 19,' nineteen beats to the bar. Let me give you the subdivision here, it is 3-3-2-2-2-1-2-2-2. Of course, that's just the area code."
- The Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Birds of Fire" off the album of the same name is in 9/8.
- "Let Me Be Your Mirror" (by Hal David & Michel Legrand) is in 5/4.
- Outsider jazz/classical composer Louis "Moondog" Hardin frequently experimented with Uncommon Time; he was quoted as saying "I'm not gonna die in 4/4." His chamber piece "Chaconne in G Major" features an unconventional method of stringing fours together—one can make a case that the time signature is actually 8/4 or 16/8.
- His preferred method of working was to string together rounds in unconventional times. See "All Is Loneliness", which is performed in 5/4 (and was covered in 4/4, much to his annoyance, by Janis Joplin); or "Bumbo" (first song in this link), which is in 4/4 but arranged in an unconventional three-bar measure.
- Supersilent love ... unusual time signatures. I've asked many a classically trained musician to count the mid-section in 7.4 but few have dared. It's made all the more impressive by the fact that their entire catalogue is made up entirely of free improvisations being written on the spot, from scratch. They've never even played the same riff twice in 15 years together, let alone song, yet they still manage to modulate time signatures and polyrhythms on the fly. They are understandably tense and focused while playing live, though not beyond joking about.
- Many of Alice in Chains' songs (particularly the ones composed by Jerry) have unusual time signatures. Especially notable is "Them Bones" which shifts between 7/8 and 4/4 at different points in the song.
- The landmark Technical Death Metal band Atheist created musical insanity bound to force any person familiar with music to shudder in horror at the sound of their constant use of bizarre time signatures changing at a rapid fire pace. Their second album is 9 straight songs of this trope in abundance. Try to guess the time signature at 1:24 in this song. This is Alien Geometries as applied to music.
- Tool likes to use weird time signatures with a lot of their songs. The most famous is probably "Schism" which, according to Justin Chancellor, their bassist starts out in  6.5/8 time, and then just goes everywhere from that point. Interesting to listen to, not so much when you actually try to play it yourself.
- The intro riff is in 6/4. A bar of 5/8 and then a bar of 7/8. "6.5/8" time would actually be 13/16.
- "Schism" apparently holds the record for most time signature changes in a song that appeared on the Billboard Hot 100, with 47 changes in its nearly 7 minute running time.
- "Lateralus", the title track from the same album, is another example. The chorus is in 9+8+7/8, and the rest of the song combines 5/8 and 12/16 or 12/8(both of which feel like 4/4, but looking at it rhythmically, and tempo-wise, there aren't enough 16th notes in 4/4 for some parts).
- "Lateralus" gets bonus points for following the Fibonacci Sequence.
- There's also the bridge of the song where the drums are playing 5/8 and the rest of the band is using 6/8.
- Many other Tool songs make use of 5/4, 7/4, 9/4, and changing or compound meters, including "Intolerance", "Die Eier Von Satan", "Forty Six & Two", "The Patient", "Jambi", and "Vicarious"
- The Grudge is in 5/4 and Right in Two is in 11/8.
- The intro riff is in 6/4. A bar of 5/8 and then a bar of 7/8. "6.5/8" time would actually be 13/16.
- "Question!" by System of a Down continually shifts between 9/8, 10/8, 6/8 and 3/4, to the point that the band has had trouble playing it live.
- Soundgarden was known for their unintentional usage of unusual time signatures, most famously in their song "Spoonman".
- The main riff for the song "Ithyphallic" by Nile is in 7/4, but the song has numerous time changes and tempo changes, using 4/4, 5/4, 3/4, 6/4, and 7/4, and tempos ranging from 255 BPM to 60 BPM.
- Also, the song "Papyrus Containing the Spell to Preserve Its Possessor Against Attacks From He Who Is in the Water" has, as it's most odd time signatures, 11/8, 5/8, 9/8, 7/8, and a couple of bars of 17/16.
- Meshuggah, much like Tool (who they have toured with) love this trope, and they tend to do a lot with it. In the main riff to "New Millennium Cyanide Christ", for example, their drummer plays a slow 4/4 with his hands and a very brisk 23/16 with his feet, and it only gets more complex from there. The Other Wiki has a breakdown of its rhythmic structure. Have your headache pills ready.
- Sludge/drone/noise metal outfit Normpeterson's "Attenuation" is in 7/4 time.
- Dream Theater uses this a lot. "Learning to Live" starts in 15/8 and 7/4, and meanders around from there. Most notably, in "The Dance of Eternity" there is a section that changes almost every measure.
- For "The Dance of Eternity", there are 104 time changes in total in a song that is 6:13 long. That equates to a time change every 3.6 SECONDS!
- It's just as ridiculous as it sounds. Musicians beware, actually seeing it laid out on paper just might make your head explode.
- There are a few measures before the finale of "Home" in 19/16.
- For "The Dance of Eternity", there are 104 time changes in total in a song that is 6:13 long. That equates to a time change every 3.6 SECONDS!
- OSI sports a song that alternates between lyrical sections in 6/4 and inctrumental passages in 25/16.
- Dethklok occasionally uses odd time signatures. "I Tamper With the Evidence at the Murder Site of Odin" is primarily in 7/8, with the bridge in 4/4; and "Dethsupport" constantly switches between 6/8 and 7/8. "Go Forth and Die" features parts in 5/8.
- Used extensively by two different drummers in progressive rock: Neil Peart of Rush and Bill Bruford of Yes and King Crimson.
- Many, many progressive rock bands do uncommon time signatures; two great examples are "Siberian Khatru" by Yes (13/8, for most of it) and "Tarkus" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer (10/8 for at least two of the segments).
- Yes manage to slip this into their pop rock albums - "Changes" from 90125 is part 7/4 and part 4/4.
- Yes' "Awaken" off of Going for the One goes through ten time changes during it's opening twenty-four measures - including briefly passing through 9/32, which is just silly, really.
- Less known (for their prog rock side, anyhow) example: Ambrosia had a habit of shifting signatures. See "Time Waits for No One," "Life Beyond L.A." and "Apothecary," just to start. Even their better-known ballads aren't immune: "How Much I Feel" shifts to 7/8 briefly about three-fifths of the way through.
- It was a song from their more pop days, but Genesis' song "Turn It On Again" is in 13/8 time.
- Pink Floyd's "Money" is mostly in 7/4 time. It then goes to straight 4/4 for the guitar solo, due to David Gilmour having difficulty soloing in 7/4. The change to 4/4 became iconic in its own right, and is generally regarded as the song's Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Pink Floyd also has ""Mother", "Two Suns in the Sunset" (both 5/4) and "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives" (15/8).
- Much of "Bike" is in 4/4 time, but due to extra syllables thrown irregularly into its lyrics, the song is peppered with an unpredictable pattern of 5/4, 6/4 and 7/4 bars.
- Rush makes use of several unusual time signatures. Moving Pictures alone has examples of 7/4, 5/4, and 3/4 time.
- Really, Rush is the poster child for this trope - it's all too easy to buy the folk myth that Neil Peart CAN'T play in 4/4.
- Part of Neil Peart's drum solo for many years was a section called "The Waltz", where he would play a 3/4 pattern with his feet and throw as many time signatures as he could over it with his hands. Including 4/4.
- "YYZ" has an intro in 10/8 time, but this could just be incidental, as the Morse code for YYZ (dah-dit-dah-dah, dah-dit-dah-dah, dah-dah-dit-dit) happens to fit into said time signature.
- Really, Rush is the poster child for this trope - it's all too easy to buy the folk myth that Neil Peart CAN'T play in 4/4.
- Jethro Tull's hit "Living in the Past" is in 5/4.
- The "See there! A son is born" part of "Thick as a Brick" is in 5/8. A similar part in the second section of the song is 6/8, but the difference is barely noticeable. Seriously - to notice it, you'd have to be counting it.
- "Boris Dancing", is, as Ian Anderson says during the Orchestral Jethro Tull recording, "written in alternating bars of 7/8 and 9/8, making it pretty difficult to dance to... unless you're Boris Yeltsin."
- Obscure psychedelic/prog band Egg released a single called "Seven Is a Jolly Good Time", about the joys of playing in unusual time signatures. The verses are in 4/4, but the choruses are indeed 7/8, and unlike some of the prog rock out there, it's got a sense of humor and is actually pretty catchy.
- The Mars Volta really like their time signature changes too. The 'robot talk' solo in "Take The Veil Cerpin Taxt" changes time signature every bar, with most of the time signatures being subdivisions of 16.
- Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" is in 7/4 time.
- "Red", by King Crimson, has three bars of 3/4 followed by a 4/4 bar during its main riff, which uses a whole-tone scale for bonus points. And then it starts to get complicated.
- Starless on the same album has sections played in 13/8.
- "Seven Days" from Sting's album Ten Summoner's Tales is one of the few oddities in 5/4 time.
- In fact, quite a lot of Ten Summoner's Tales is in uncommon time. "St Augustine in Hell" is in 7/8 (with a spoken interlude in 3/4), and the verses of "Love Is Stronger Than Justice (The Munificent Seven)" has verses in 15/8 and choruses in straight 4/4.
- In the ending of "Walking on the Moon" by The Police, the guitar and bass maintain their 4/4 riff while the drums go into a triplet-based time signature. It fits smoothly from a listening standpoint, but would be hell to play.
- Chicago's song "The Road" has continually shifting time signatures: 5/4 time, 6/4, 3/4, 4/4, etc. Actually, Chicago tended to play with time signatures a lot back in the old days, before Terry Kath's untimely death and before David Foster derailed the band into an '80s sugar-pop machine. Oh, and one of the band's most famous singles, "Colour My World", is in 12/8 time, as is the lesser-known "Goodbye" from Chicago V (aside from a brief excursion into 4/4 about two thirds of the way through the song).
- "Colour My World" is part of a longer suite called "Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon", which has a few time-signature shifts. It's a very good example of the experimental tendency that gave their early material some backbone that their later work missed.
- From Chicago VII, "Aire" is 7/8 time, and "Devil's Sweet" is...mostly 12/8 with shifting signatures? It isn't 4/4, that's for sure.
- The intro to the full version of "Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?" is in 5/4. And if memory serves correctly, "South California Purples" includes some 7/4.
- The standard blues verse is 12 bars of either 4/4, 6/8, or 12/8, unchanging. Each verse in "South California Purples" (vocal and instrumental) is 11 bars of 4/4, then three bars in 3/4, and back to four bars of 4/4 afterward. Its chords are a typical blues progression but is slightly "off blues" in the changing meter. And don't forget about the hook in "It Better End Soon"—a measure of 13/8 followed by a measure of 11/8!
- The Stranglers' "Golden Brown" has alternating bars of 6/8 and 7/8. A.k.a. waltzing three times per doing foxtrot once for that song. (so 3 x 3/4 then 4/4)
- A few songs late in The Beatles' catalogue have some rhythmical shenanigans. The bridge of "Here Comes The Sun" rotates between 11/8, 4/4, and 7/8, and "Good Morning Good Morning" has completely screwed up verses. "Happiness is a Warm Gun" (White Album) has alternating measures of 9/4 and 10/4 in one section.
- Frank Zappa would train his musicians to shift time signatures at a second's notice - something he'd occasionally use to mess with guest artists who thought they were going to play a straight 4/4.
- The intro to The Allman Brothers' "Whipping Post" is in 11/4 (or 3+3+3+2/4) time.
- "Modern Man" from Arcade Fire's The Suburbs throws in a few cheeky bars of 5/4 every now and again - with the accent on the drums coming half a beat before the first beat of the next bar, just to confuse you even more.
- The standard pattern of the Nine Inch Nails song "March of the Pigs" is three bars of 7/8 followed by bar of 4/4 time.
- Radiohead have written quite a few songs in 5/4, including "15 Step". "Everything In Its Right Place" and "Go to Sleep" is in 10/4, and the second section of "Paranoid Android" is in 7/8.
- The twinkly guitar riff in Let Down is played in 5/4, while the rest is played in 4/4. Due to an additional error while mixing the band joins in at a really awkward and unexpected time, but sounded cool so they left it in. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a bugger to recreate live and they've very rarely played it during tours as a result.
- Although not strictly uncommon time, the drums and guitar in How To Disappear Completely are in straight waltz time, while the bass plays in 4/4.
- Also by Radiohead is "Pyramid Song", written in... well, nobody's quite sure yet. (Quite deviously, once the drums come in, it turns out to be a perversion of 4/4 accomplished by the piano and drums putting the emphasis in strange places.)
- Similarly, though the riff in Myxomatosis technically works out to 4/4 - more accurately 16/8 - the rhythm is cut up into awkward jerky phrases that can be quite off putting. I believe it's counted as 3+3+6+4.
- The eponymous song from Incubus' album Make Yourself alternates between one measure of 7/4 and two measures of 4/4.
- Coldplay's song "Glass of Water" is written in 7/4 time.
- Cream's "White Room" has an intro and bridge in 5/4. The verses are in Common Time.
- "Possum Kingdom" by The Toadies switches every measure between 7/4 and 8/4.
- Led Zeppelin's "The Crunge" from Houses of the Holy started off in 9/8 (4/8+ 5/8) and mixed it up from there.
- "Black Dog" has guitar and bass in 4/4, while the drums play in 5/4.
- Talking Heads came up with "Animals" from their album Fear of Music, which boasts verses in 5/4 and choruses with three measures of 7/4, followed by one measure of 6/4 just to screw with you. Don't worry, though, the intro and strange ritualistic chant outro are in 4/4.
- Green Day uses two bars of 4/4 followed by two bars of 7/8 for the verses of their song "Before the Lobotomy." The choruses of that same song are entirely in 7/8.
- Kaizers Orchestra's signature style uses uncommon time a lot; it was outright pointed out in "Femtakt filosofi" from Violeta Violeta Volume I. The title translates to "Philosophy in 5/4".
- PJ Harvey's "Water" is effectively a march in 5/4.
- Here's a relatively simple example in comparison to some of this chaos: During the verses of "That's What You Get" by Paramore, the drummer plays in 4/4 under instruments and vocalist running 3/4.
- Stone Temple Pilots do something similar with "Vasoline" (drummer in 4/4, guitar and bass in 3/4), and, to return us to the chaos, Battles' does this in "Ddiamondd" to ludicrous levels, with the guitar, bass, and vocalist in 7/4 time for two measures, before shifting to 4/4 time for four measures...while the drummer is playing 15/8 under them the entire time.
- Five Iron Frenzy's Car is in 5/4 with an occasional 6/4 at the end of a phrase.
- Some of the more brutal tracks like "Up the Neck" on the first Pretenders album use key signatures such as 13/4 and 27/4
- Juliana Hatfield's "Spin The Bottle" is in 5/4 time.
- Canadian indie rock band Women are rather fond of odd time signatures. They have songs in 13/8 and 7/4, and "Shaking Hand" has an opening riff that cycles through one bar in 13/8 and two bars of 4/4, and a closing section that cycles through one bar each of 3/4, 5/8, 3/4, 3/4, and 3/8.
- Broken Social Scene has "7/4 (Shoreline)".
- "Math rock" is an entire subgenre named after its fondness for this trope.
- "Get On" by Covenant seems to be in 4/4 at first, but skips a beat every other measure, making it 7/4.
- OK Go's "WTF?" is in 5/4.
Examples In Other Media
- In Death Note, the first section of L's theme alternates time signatures for each measure in patterns of 4: the first measure is 7/8, the second is 3/4, the third is 7/8, and the fourth is 4/4. This rather unique pattern is repeated in Near's theme, further cementing the connection between the two.
- "7 Minutes" from the Cowboy Bebop movie is not only just under 7 minutes long, it spends a lot of time Epic Rocking in 7/4 (with interludes in 4/4).
- A couple of character songs from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni have sections written in Uncommon Time, namely, Takano Miyo's "Bon Karma" and Fuurude Rika's "Mugen Kairou". "Mugen Kairou" is in 5/4 except for its bridge and chorus, which is in 3/4; while the verse of "Bon Karma" alternates between 3/4 and 4/4 measures -significant in that Miyo's name is written with the kanji for 3 and 4.
- The Mexican dance in Aaron Copland's "Billy the Kid" is mostly 5/8.
- In one Foxtrot strip, Jason changes all of Peter's guitar music to 400,000/4 time, so when Peter counts off, he has to go all the way to 400,000 before he can begin playing.
- The Uruk-Hai theme from Howard Shore's Lord of the Rings score, found within the track "Amon Hen" on the Fellowship OST, has 5/4 time. Shore explained that he was aiming to give Saruman's army a mechanical-sounding accompaniment.
- The chorus of "Now You're A Man" from Orgazmo is in 7/4. It was almost like an inside joke to jack up the irony of so needlessly using anything but 4/4 in such a cheesy song.
- The DVD insert for one pressing of This Is Spinal Tap state that one of the band's drummers quit, saying he "couldn't take this 4/4 shit".
- The theme to John Carpenter 's Halloween was written in a 5/4 meter.
- "Tubular Bells" from The Exorcist uses three measures of 7/8 against one measure of 9/8. (or two 7/8 against two 4/4)
- The original version of the theme music to The Bill was in 7/4. Listen to it here.
- The theme to the Mission: Impossible TV series is in 5/4. It was changed to 4/4 for the movies.
- The music playing as the "ghosts" shimmer into Cybermen in the Doctor Who episode "Army of Ghosts", is in 5/4.
- The Eleventh Doctor's theme is almost entirely in 7/4. 7 + 4= 11.
- The reimagined Battlestar Galactica score by Bear Mc Reary uses some unusual time signatures for leitmotifs. The most prominent is Six's theme, which is in 9/8 time.
- The theme song to Xena is in 7/8 time with a break around the bridge of 9/8.
- Candide has "The Ballad of Eldorado" in 5/8, and "Words, Words, Words" in 7/8, as well as "Oh Happy We" in 7/4 (although the measures are counted as alternating measures of 4/4 and 3/4).
- MOD Tracker formats don't really have time signatures for the composer to be concerned about. Composing in such programs is more about getting things to sound good when played by the computer. Some files even change the speed of the song every couple of lines, making it at the very least, very difficult for a time signature to be deduced.
- "Danger Zone" by HMW uses a 5/4 against 3/4 melody on top of a 4/4 backbeat.
- Animusic's "Starship Groove" is in 7/4; the beacons on the sides of the stage flash in time to the beat.
- Vocaloid Megurine Luka's song "7/8" is written in... guess.
- The same producer also wrote Luka's song "Significance of Existence" in 5/4.
- For some reason, Andrew Lloyd Webber really likes doing this:
- Jesus Christ Superstar has "Everything's Alright" in 5/4, and parts of "The Temple" in 7/4.
- Cats has pieces of "Mungojerrie and Rumpleteaser" and "Skimbleshanks" in 7/8 and 13/8, respectively.
- "The Money Kept Rolling In" from Evita is similarly in 7/8.
- The title song in Sunset Boulevard is in 5/8.
- The song "Notes" from Phantom of the Opera is partly in 15/16.
- Andrew Lloyd Webber loves 7/8 - there's a song in 7/8 somewhere in every one of his shows.
- "Thank Goodness" in Wicked sounds like mostly 5/8. "I Couldn't Be Happier" is in 5/8 mixed with 6/8, 3/4, 4/4, 2/4 and other time signatures.
- Leonard Bernstein's Mass has some very unusual time signatures: 5/8 for "Gloria Tibi," 7/8 (when it's not switching rapidly between 2/4 and 3/8) for "God Said," and the 9/8 of "In Nomine Patris" is divided into 3+ 2+ 2+ 2 beats instead of the usual 3+ 3+ 3.
- Bernstein's "waltzes" were sometimes in the usual 3/4 (e.g. the "Paris Waltz" in Candide), and sometimes really different: the waltz in his Divertimento for Orchestra is in 7/8; the waltz in his ballet music for Fancy Free switches freely between 3/4, 3/8 and 4/4.
- Speaking of Bernstein ... "America" from West Side Story alternates between a compound duple (6/8-ish) and triple (3/4-ish) meter on a measure-by-measure basis.
- Stephen Sondheim loves him some uncommon time.
- "Sensitivity" from Once Upon A Mattress is in 5/4.
- "Feelings" from The Apple Tree in 9 (3+ 2+ 2+ 2).
- "What Does He Want Of Me?" from Man of La Mancha is in 7/8.
- "Superboy and the Invisible Girl" from Next to Normal is 6/8 followed by 5/8 most of the time.
- The refrain of "Let Life Happen" from Vanities has a 4/4 against 5/4 meter. The verse of "Cute Boys with Short Haircuts" follows an even more irregular pattern; 4/4+5/4->4/4+7/4->4/4+5/4.
- A section of "The Barricade" in Les Misérables (you at the barricade listen to this...) changes its time signature every measure (6/8, 9/8, 9/8, 6/8, 12/8, IIRC).
- "On the Willows" from Godspell is in 5/4, and Alas For You from the same show is... all over the place.
- Part of Hartmann's Youkai Girl is in 7/8. The rest is in Common Time.
- Similarly, the intro of U.N. Owen Was Her? is in 5/4, with the rest of the song played in common time.
- And now Makai City Esoterica is in 11/4, constantly switching between (5+6)/4 and (6+5)/4.
- Like Makai City, the ending theme to Imperishable Night is in 17/8, switching between signatures of 9 and 8.
- The Nippius level of Jazz Jackrabbit has several shifting time signatures in it.
- Given Tim Follin's progressive rock influences, it's no surprise that his video game music sometimes uses unusual time signatures. For just one example, the beach theme from Plok starts out in 7/8, shifts to 4/4, and then shifts back to 7/8.
- The obligatory Nobuo Uematsu section:
- Final Fantasy VIII used 5/4 time for its normal combat music. The boss music, by contrast, is mostly in 4/4 but has a bar in 5/4 and one in 6/4.
- While most of "One-Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII is in 4/4, the transition between the intro and the main body of the song has a few measures in 7/8. It's especially notable in the Advent Children version because the time signature shift is punctuated by the sudden entry of electric guitars and percussion, making the section the musical equivalent of a boot to the head.
- Additionally, the chocobo theme from Final Fantasy VII was in 5/4, swung. Its title "Cinco de Chocobo" alludes to this.
- The fourth (and final) movement of "Dancing Mad", the Final Boss theme from Final Fantasy VI, is a remix of Kefka's Leitmotif that alternates between 4/4 and 7/8 time, as well as a few measures in 2/2. The chaotic feeling it creates fits Kefka very well.
- Nobuo Uematsu used several unconventional rhythms in Final Fantasy VI's music; the main boss theme is 16-beat patterns (four Threes followed by two Twos - or two bars of 6/8 plus a bar of 4/8) for much of the music, and the AtmaWeapon/Goddess Statue fight music is in eight-beat patterns (two Threes followed by a Two). Both are great tension-building rhythms, and make for good listening even when you hear the things many times and often for multiple iterations in a single fight.
- Hey, the Esper theme ("Another World of Beasts")! 7/4!
- Final Fantasy IX has "Run!" which plays whenever the party must escape a place within a time limit. It has three bars of 5/4 + two of 6/8 for the main melody, and uses 4/4 + 7/8 in the mid parts. The frequency of the time changes combined with the overall speed of the song is positively frantic - the player knows he's got to get out now.
- Final Fantasy X had its share as well. For instance, in the tune "Decisive Battle," the time signature shifts around like crazy. There are long sections in common time signatures like 3/4 and 4/4, but when they start changing every couple bars and throwing in 2/4 and 6/4, things get a little complicated.
- The Factory theme in Super Mario RPG has a time signature of 13/8.
- The first level theme from the 1989 Namco Shmup Burning Force alternates between 7/8 and 4/4 time, much like the above-mentioned beach theme from Plok. Take a listen.
- A couple of examples from Knights in The Nightmare-- "Clash with the Dark King Zolgonark" is written in 5/4, while "Clash with the Fallen Angel Melissa" is written in half 7/8 and half 4/4.
- In Mother 3, you can do combos by tapping the attack button in time with the battle music's rhythm after your attack lands. This grows difficult later in the game; for instance, "Strong One" is in 15/8 time, while "Masked Man" variation skips a beat and becomes 29/16 time.
- In Iji's soundtrack, "Tor" uses 7/4 and 5/4 time, while "Seven Four" is named after the time signature.
- Chrono Trigger: The "Sealed Door" (the music that plays when you use a MacGuffin on certain areas) starts in 5/4 time before going to 6/8.
- The Chrono Cross soundtrack frequently experiments in polyrhythm and unusual meter - "Snakebone Manor" is in 5/8 and 7/8 time, for instance. The most cited example is the game's love-it-or-hate-it main battle theme, "Hurricane" - a polyrhythm of 9/8, 3/4, 4/4, and 5/4 times.
- The alert theme from Metal Gear 2, and the song "Holic" from Beatmania IIDX and Dance Dance Revolution, both Konami games, are in 7/8 time. The latter later changes to 7/4 and then 4/4. The Cut Song "Life" from Silent Hill 3 is also 7/8.
- "Leonidas" from Halo 2 goes 2*(6/4 + 5/4) + 4/4 + 13/8 + 6/4 . The main theme of "Earth City is in 13/8, although the rest of the song is in a more conventional 6/8.
- The Ridley battle theme from the Metroid series is in 5/8.
- And the Mother Brain theme in Super Metroid is in 7/4.
- Dreatnaut's theme from RuneScape is 5/8. However, that theme is very disorienting so it's easy to lose beat.
- Most of the music in Twisted Metal: Black uses uncommon or mixed time signatures. Prison Passage uses 7/8, 5/8, and even 17/16 and 19/16. "Darkness Prevails" is 5/4. Minion's theme rotatez between 7/4, 4/4, 7/8+5/8, and 3/4.
- "Suicide Mission," one of the crown jewels of the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack, combines ethereal synths, Orchestral Bombing and Ominous Choral Chanting in a heavy, deliberate 7/4.
- Kingdom Hearts 1, "Night of Fate." Takes the cake by seeming to be in a duple meter (10/4), but actually being in compound: "1&a 2&a 3& 4&." This is also a good example of why numerically large timesigs are hard to read and understand; this song would be easier to play if it was rendered as two measures, one of 6/8 and one of 4/8.
- The Metal Slug series seems to have made this into a composer in-joke. Most installments include a version of the song Steel Beast. No two versions share a time signature. (Except 2 and 3)
- "Chomber" from Marathon is in 7/4 time, has a seven-letter title, and plays on the seventh level of the game.
- Kirby Super Star has Marx's Theme, which changes time signature 14 times in under a minute. Appropriate for a character who has gone completely mad with power.
- The Milky Way Wishes Overworld Theme is primarily in 7/8 with some 8/8 (4/4) to complete melodies, while the final part is in 7/4. Yup.
- The boss theme from Syphon Filter 2 has a 5/8 meter. The French terrorists' theme in The Omega Strain is a 3*5/4 against 2*6/8 march.
- The final boss theme from Contra jumps gleefully from 11/8 to 5/8 to 6/8 to 4/4 to 7/8 and back to 11/8. It's like Dream Theater had a pop at videogame music.
- In the Kanto Gym Leader battle theme from Pokémon Red and Blue, the first four bars after the intro are played in 7/4 before the tune switches to Common Time.
- Hidden Land from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness is primarily in 6/4, with a bar of 5/4 followed by a bar of 7/4 followed by 6/4 again.
- The theme to the first stage from Klonoa, "The Windmill Song", is written in 6/8 time, but occasionally switches to 5/8.
- Crystal Snail's theme from Mega Man X 2 switches between 13/8 and 6/8 time.
- The middle eight in the Gran Turismo 5 version of "Moon Over the Castle" is in (3+4+3+4.5)/4
- The World of Warcraft raid Trial of the Crusader was often criticized for its unoriginality, but one of the main musical themes for it had an original time signature of 11/4.
- The Cross Examination theme from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All is written in alternating measures of 7/8 and 13/16, and then 13/16 and 12/16 (3/4).
- Blockade, from the identically-named fourth mission in Ace Combat 04, is in 7/8.
- Songs to Wear Pants To song "Never" is in 5/4 time; the time signature being specifically part of the song's request.
- Mazedude's "Microscopism" is in an incredibly bizarre 7.5/8 (15/16) time signature.
- Only if you believe in reducing fractions, which - to the consternation of mathematicians everywhere - ain't the right thing for a musician to do. 7.5/8 looks impossible (and is), but 15/16 is just 5/4 with triplets (1&a 2&a 3&a 4&a 5&a).
- Just to clarify: the song is not in triple meter. Having said that, it's also not in a single coherent time signature: it's a repeating pattern of 4/4 and 2+2+3/8.
- The Broken Clock, a piece in Homestuck's discography, is written in 13/8 (it'd be 13/4, except the composer "didn't really plan for it" and—taking a little jab at the below—"sometimes I like to put possible playability/sheet music over numerical references for the sake of references"). Given that the album it's in boasts "time shenanigans", this is just a more literal interpretation of the theme.
- Then there's "Judgment Day", 13/4 at 413 bpm (only the drums sound as fast as this would imply, but catching the beat is still not so easy).
- The main theme of Meat Boy and Super Meat Boy is in 7/4 time, as is the world-select version in Super Meat Boy.
- Pomplamoose's cover of "My Favorite Things" starts in 5/4 as a tribute to Brubeck and mostly keeps that time signature in the verses before switching to 3/4.
- jokingly referred to as