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Thread: odd time signatures

  1. #1
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    odd time signatures

    can anyone help me on this, or is there any books that i could buy to read up on these damn odd time signatures, i'm sick of playing in 4/4

  2. #2
    Registered User Unhorizon's Avatar
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    I don't know about any books on time signatures, but what exactly do you want to learn? I use them when I have to but avoid them when I don't need them, and that's coming from a huge Dream Theater fan. Those guys are famous for using ridiculous time signatures and change about 100 times in one song. Listen to the song Learning to Live. I think that song changes time signatures just about every measure, but it's a great song anyway. Yeah, so what exactly don't you understand about time signatures?

  3. #3
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    If you're familiar with what "4/4" means, any odd time should be an extension of that. So, if in 4/4, there are 4 beats per measure and each quarter-note gets a beat, the same concept applies to 7/8, 5/4 or whatever(7 beats per measure, 8th note gets a beat, etc.). The easiest way that I found to start getting used to them is by writing riffs in a particular time and feeling where the accents naturally want to fall. At first you'll be making riffs which just hit all the beats so that counting it is easy, but over time you'll start feeling a bar of 7 as a group of 3, and a group of 4(well, I do anyway), and that's the point at which you can really start to break off and really "play" that time. The main thing to remember, is that odd times are like exotic scales - they shouldn't be used just for the sake of novelty, or as a gimmick.

    I'm also wondering wheter you've really explored all of the subdivisions and groupings available in 4/4. You can make some pretty messed-up sounding accents in 4/4 time by blending different rests, groups of 4 and triplets.

  4. #4
    Afro-Cuban Grunge-Pop Bongo Boy's Avatar
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    I just read an incredible perspective on this by a woman interviewed in the most recent Guitar Player magazine--sorry I can't recall her name--a jazz artist.

    Anyway, she felt that time sigs outside of the 4/4 box were quite the test of one's real ability to improvise. Her point was that, if you stick to 4/4, you may actually be relying on 'familiar old tricks' more than you're aware. But, if you move to an odd meter (literally odd, as in 5/8 for example) you'll be required to change phrasing--and may discover your improvisation isn't so improvised.

    I thought this was a cool perspective.

    I'm no expert, but I do think debaser's approach above would be a cool way to discover new time sigs--to restate what he already said...create a little riff first and see what sig it's in. If it sounds like 4/4, then tweak it until it isn't. Naturally you'll have to play with that until it actually sounds like a complete phrase that can go somewhere. The objective itself, after all, is not to play in odd time sigs, but rather to create interesting rhythmic structure, etc.

    I find hand percussion to be real handy in doing this--although 6/8 comes up very naturally and often--you're extremely free to create phrases that have no preconceived boundaries. Maybe it's just easier for me with congas than it is guitar.
    Pulsing the System with Confirmed Nonsense.

  5. #5
    I, Galactus oRg's Avatar
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    One of the oddest time signatures I've played with is a 9/8 (9 eighth-notes per measure). Using that you could pretty much come up with some even more extreme time-sig combos like 17/16 and 35/32. If your getting tired of playing 4/4 all the time becuz it sound bland and boring. Instead of going into odd time signatures try using polymetrics to make some very cool sounding riffs. One of my fav ways of doing this is have a drummer/drum machine play a 4/4 with his hi-hat/cymbals and his snare. What you do is play a 7/8 or a 5/8. Jump in and out of different time signatures through a song as well. Just becuz the drummer is in 4/4 doesn't mean you have to be. If you wanna hear some very awesome polymetrics listen to Elastic by Meshuggah. If your one to follow the drummer your gonna be lost trying to play it...lol.

  6. #6
    Senior Citizen Cuno's Avatar
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    Bulgarian and hungarian folk music has a lot of odd meters, yet all songs are dances. I recommend a the East Wind CD - very inspiring music.

  7. #7
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    I actually don't find 9/8 to be that "odd" myself. More often than not, it seems play out as groups of 3, which is fairly familiar sounding. I like it better when it feels like a bar of 4 and a bar of 5, or as a bar of 4/4 with an extra 8th note. That allows the drummer to play a "4 on the floor" type beat and simply catch the stutter when it comes around. Odd times work best when they are treated more like common time, and less as something you would do for the sake of novelty.

  8. #8
    I, Galactus oRg's Avatar
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    I just thought of another band that uses some odd time-sigs. Listen to some of Jethro Tull's music and then listen to some of Shawn Lane's music with Jonas Hellborg and Jeff Sipe.

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    There isn't really a shortage of bands who use odd-times in the rock context. Yes, Rush, Dream Theatre, Tool, Primus, Radiohead, and many others do so regularly. For some cool examples of the polyrhythmic aproach, check out Elvin Jones on Coltrane's later albums, or Tony Williams on Miles Davis' Miles Smiles("Footprints" has some great 4 over 3 playing). The Lane/Hellborg stuff does have some great use of it as well, although it tends to be in a more eastern context.

  10. #10
    Afro-Cuban Grunge-Pop Bongo Boy's Avatar
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    So...what's the connection between 'polyrythmic' and 'odd time signatures'? I don't see it...hep meh.

    Hey debaser: 'Caribou'? Cool tune, eh? You know what I'm sayin'--oh lordie.
    Last edited by Bongo Boy; 03-23-2004 at 05:01 AM.
    Pulsing the System with Confirmed Nonsense.

  11. #11
    Afro-Cuban Grunge-Pop Bongo Boy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by debaser
    Odd times work best when they are treated more like common time, and less as something you would do for the sake of novelty.
    Now you're freaking me out.
    Pulsing the System with Confirmed Nonsense.

  12. #12
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    Well, I was really only bringing up polyrhythms because they are another approach to diversifying your rhythms, which seemed like what the OP was looking for. Plus, polyrhythm, at its' simplest, allows for one person to play in one time and one to play in another. This lets rhythms and accents( not to mention harmonies) overlap in different ways, and produces some interesting sounds - for example, if you have a phrase in 5/4 and a phrase in 4/4 and start them on the same beat, after 4 times through the 5/4 and 5 through the 4/4 you'll be back together on "1." If you make it work, it sounds great.

    About using odd-times as more similar to common time, I only meant that if you're playing a group of 11, it's a lot better to look for common groupings within a measure, rather than playing it with every beat covered. SO, if you treat a bar of 11 as two groups of 4 and one group of three, you can play some stuff that actually grooves in there rather than sounding like it's you're first time playing 11. Does that make sense?

  13. #13
    Afro-Cuban Grunge-Pop Bongo Boy's Avatar
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    Okay that makes sense. Man sometimes I'm thick as a brick.
    Pulsing the System with Confirmed Nonsense.

  14. #14
    Shredding Machine DDTonFire's Avatar
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    I love wierd time signatures. Even better are changing time signatures. Like Unhorizon said, Dream Theater are the ultimate in wierd and changing time sigs. Get one of their tabs (e.g. Metropolis pt. I, Learning to Live, or Dance of Eternity) and it will provide a study of changing meters better than any book can ever do IMHO.

    The thing about Dream Theater and most of the rest of the prog rock world is that they change meters efforlessly, flawlessly, and they make it sound good !

  15. #15
    Metal Messiah Sakkaku's Avatar
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    Man, I just can't understand time signatures eh... I must need it explained to me really really basically or something... I've just never 'clicked' to it. It's like I have an inner metronome, and it just 'remembers the feel' of a song. I can play in time, to many of the 'odd' time signatures (even some Meshuggah tracks), but I wouldn't have a clue what the time signature is, or how to figure it out. Luckily my drummer friend understands the proper music theory side of it, and he can explain it to me some day...

    On a side note - I'm learning drums! How whack is that. I had 2 drummers both say to me I had great potential and sounded tighter than 99% of people who are 'muck around' drummers.

    Sounds a bit dumb, ya know... this being a mainly guitar website and all, but I'm quite excited.

    Guitar is, and always will be my first love though. You can't bend a tom, or strap a full kit to your back!

    Sakkaku
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