Confusion regarding odd time signatures

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Raunaq Singh, Jun 16, 2020.

  1. Raunaq Singh

    Raunaq Singh

    Jul 28, 2018
    Okay so I was just talking to one of my friends about a song he's planning on doing in a 17/16 time signature. I've been playing the bass for around 3 years now and honestly I've mostly concentrated on things in 4/4. I had visualised a 17/16 as 3 quarters and 5 sixteenths. However he told me that if I am visualising a time signature, the denominator should remain the same. So 4/4 4/4 4/4 3/16 won't be correct as the denominator isn't correct. I'm new to odd time signatures so I really want to know whether keeping the denominator same while understanding these time signatures is correct.
    Please help me out here
  2. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    In my (admittedly limited) experience with such time signatures, the groove usually dictates a particular way of dividing it up. With 17/16, my guess is that it might be basically 4-4-4-5 -- i.e., four bars of 4/4 plus one additional beat. I suggest not worrying about the arithmetic, and find a way to subdivide it that feels right to you.
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  3. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    In terms of measure duration, 17/16 is the same as 1 measure of 4/4 extended by a 1/16th. Each 1/4 is 4/16 plus one more. How the beats are apportioned within that measure has no convention.
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  4. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    With many of these complex key signatures it's best (IMO) to find where the principal beats are and find the pattern. Most of the time they'll be sub-divided in 2's or 3's. So 2-2-3 for 7/4. Usually in the case of 5, 7 etc the odd ball group will be first or last (but there really isn't any rule that extends 100%).
  5. Malcolm35

    Malcolm35 Supporting Member

    Look for the 2's and or 3's and hope. Thank goodness we never got off into 17/16.
  6. josephlevie


    Dec 23, 2010
    The easiest way to think about these things is to count them out. 17/16 is just a 4/4 measure with an extra sixteenth note. The song may choose to subdivide, but, it’s really still counted the same way. Eventually, you’ll feel it, but, to slowly get around it, just count out in sixteenths.

    1e&a2e&a3e&a4e&a51e&a2e&a3e&a4e&a5 etc.
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  7. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    There is nothing fundamentally wrong with visualising '3x¼ + 5/16'. Equally valid would be '4x¼ + 1/16'. Other interesting distributions might be 1 crotchet, three dotted quavers then another crotchet, or a two minim separated by a semi-quaver as the fundamental 'meter':
    You could even move that 'long' beat around within the measure to make some really interesting variations:

    would indeed be wrong as that adds to a total of 51/16 over the 4 measures. Even if that 3 was meant to be 5 (which I think is what you meant) it would look like this:
  8. Most odd time signatures are what’s called “compound meter”, meaning they include both duple and triple groupings. This means you will see beamed groups of 2 or 4, and beamed groups of three in the same measure.

    • The base division (the bottom number in the time signature—in the case of 17/16, that’s a sixteenth note) is always constant. In other words, the placement and tempo of those sixteenths never vary. They unfold with machine-gun-like precision
    • The beaming will show you how to phrase/accent the groupings. 5/8 could be 3+2 or 2+3. 7/8 could be 3+2+2, or 2+3+2, or 2+2+3, or 4+3, or 3+4. And so on.
  9. Ed Fuqua

    Ed Fuqua

    Dec 13, 1999
    Columbia SC
    Chuck Sher publishes my book, WALKING BASSICS:The Fundamentals of Jazz Bass Playing.
    For Mithra's sake. Without seeing or hearing what the chord progression is and how the melody is phrased, there is absolutely no way to determine how to improvise a line of accompaniment. So all of the various ways you can break up the time just don't mean poopie until there's a context.

    What the composer is miscommunicating to Our Erstwhile Ingenue is a misunderstanding of what OEI (i.e., the OP) is saying. He's not talking about re writing the time signature,, he's talking about defining the underlying rhythmic pulse. Which again, should not be done in the abstract. By way of analogy, you don't want to start planning your route until you know where you're going.

    But to the OP, yes. Once you get that underlying rhythmic and melodic information about the composition, then you can think of a single note held for 4 sixteenth notes as a quarter note (because it is) rather than 4 sixteenth notes tied. You're even going to write it out that way.
  10. SteveCS


    Nov 19, 2014
    Hampshire, UK
    ...which is exactly what I meant by this, in post #3...

  11. Vinny_G


    Dec 1, 2011
    They are not odd, they are just different. Be nice to them. :)
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  12. ...and they are not even either.
  13. A few thoughts on a subject near and dear to my heart….

    1) Exotic meters are fun but it’s important that the music comes first. I think the best odd meter material isn’t immediately obvious: the bridge from Here Comes The Sun, the B section of Led Boots, Limelight…. It’s less effective if the music gets forced to fit the meter. That can sound to me like “look-at-what-me-ter-we’re-play-ing-play-ing-in.” Not that there’s anything wrong with math rock, but still.

    2) I went to a clinic with Chester Thompson in the ‘80s. The one thing I clearly remember him saying was “About meter… there’s 2, and there’s 3. That’s all I’m going to say about meter.”

    3) For myself, I try to really feel the accented beats when playing in exotic meters. So, for 17, I might group it as 5-5-7, count it in my head as one-two, one-two-three, one-two, one-two-three, one-two, one-two, one-two three, but really be feeling the pulse on the “ones,” especially the ones of the groups of three: dot DAA, dot DAA, dot dot DAA. I don;t know how clear this is written instead of sung. But anyway, this helps me feel the groove because, after hearing those accents even for a minute or so, they really get established in your mind and, if you start to drift, you’ll immediately notice.

    4) There’s a cool lesson on SBL with Gavin Harrison on a different approach to this, and a good way to groove hard in exotic meter. Well worth a watch:

    5) One of my favorite uses of exotic meter is for polyrhythm. For example, to play a simple 5/8 pattern over a 4/4 groove. Or 17/16. Or whatever. That gives you the best of both worlds, with the shifting accents of the odd meter against, for example, a danceable funky groove. Just an idea.

    Hope some of this helps and/or sparks interest.


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  14. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    For the "best odd meter material that isn't immediately obvious," I'd vote for Dave Brubeck's Take Five and Pink Floyd's Money. Each introduced a generation (or more) of music fans (in different genres) to odd meters without them noticing.
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  15. Well... yeah. Those also. I think I knew how to play Money way before I realized the main riff was in 7. Same for Limelight. Take Five I knew, but still, great tune, and it flows...right? It doesn't feel like an exercise.
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  16. factory presets

    factory presets

    Mar 3, 2020
    Listen to the drums. Somewhere in the bar the accent will be pushed back a 16th from where you would expect it. If I can find where the extra beat is added, (or subtracted if that's the nature of the rhythm) it makes it easier to feel the beat rather than counting it out.

    May or may not work for you. Gotta be worth a try, though.
  17. Lobster11

    Lobster11 Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Apr 22, 2006
    Williamsburg, VA
    One of my favorite odd-time tunes:

    In the Comments section below the video, someone asks, "Is it one bar of 16/16 and then a bar of 14/16? Or 4/4 and 7/8?" Someone else replies, "I think of it as 15/16 and 16/16." Then the actual drummer in the video (Jordan Perlson) chimes in to say, "I think of it as 4/4, 7/8, 4/4, 4/4."
  18. OptimalOptimus


    Jan 4, 2019
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  19. Lackey


    May 10, 2002
    Los Angeles
    Definitely is important to make music that has a groove and a pulse to it, and that's doubly true for odd time stuff. Bands like Dream Theater bug me because they just tack on notes to get into odd time, rather than make something cohesive. Bands like Tool, Porcupine Tree and Meshuggah have mastered odd time songwriting. Much of Meshuggahs stuff actually resolves after 4 bars of 4/4, which helps create tension and cohesion as the quarter notes match up only occasionally with the weird beat on top.

    This Porcupine Tree track is an example of how Gavin Harrison subdivides a passage in 7 into 4 equal chunks. Masterful and musical.

    What I'm trying to impress here is that it's easier to play odd times when you can "feel" the underlying groove - even if the listener can't. This can make the song more complex for the listener, like the first video, or more simple for the listener like the second, but the underlying rhythmic concept is the same.
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  20. Huge +1 to @Cricket55, the Beatles were masters of catchy, radio-friendly odd time signatures.

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