How do you choose the time signature of your song?

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Christoffer Steffan
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Post 06 Jan 2021

Hi, everyone! :)

How do you choose the time signature of your song?
So far, with my music, it was always 3/4 or 4/4.

But I wanna get a little bit more interesting.
Can you recommend any books or videos explaining how it all works?

Thanks!
Chris

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pushedbutton
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Post 06 Jan 2021

if it's not 4/4 i fall over when i dance to it.
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Billy+
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Post 06 Jan 2021

pushedbutton wrote:
06 Jan 2021
if it's not 4/4 i fall over when i dance to it.
:lol:

I've always found odd signatures make me go in circles :roll:
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guitfnky
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Post 06 Jan 2021

the best way I’ve found to introduce odd meters into your own music is to listen to a lot of other stuff that isn’t in 4/4 or 3/4. you’ll gradually find yourself more comfortable with different meters, and as that happens, you’ll start to naturally write stuff that’s in odd meters without even thinking about it.

I don’t think it’s a great idea to go into it with the mindset that you’re going to write something in a particular meter. that almost always sounds forced (at least in my experience), and usually that means there’s no groove, which is a huge no-no, for me.

another trick I use a lot is to take something that’s in 4/4 or 3/4 and “cutting the fat”. a lot of the time, we have a tendency to include extra beats/subdivisions only because it makes a part fit into an easy meter.

one of my favorite recent examples is just after 2:40 here: https://soundcloud.app.goo.gl/8wc34kDtQRo9LZbv7

you can hear the riff cuts off before it makes a full 8 beats. it was originally in 4/4, but felt unnecessary keeping the extra beat, so I shortened it. that could be considered a bar of 4/4 and a bar of 3/4, but the idea is the same.

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Loque
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Post 06 Jan 2021

I am too stupid to use other than 4/4. I tried a few times other things, but my head was hurting so much...
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aeox
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Post 06 Jan 2021

3/4 and 4/4 are really nice IMO.

There is a reason most people gravitate towards these time signatures. It's almost primal.

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guitfnky
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Post 06 Jan 2021

I think the tendency to gravitate toward simple time signatures has more to do with culture and western musical “standards” than some inherent preference. generally speaking, we westerners prefer our music to be as simple as possible.

TritoneAddiction
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Post 06 Jan 2021

I don't "choose" a time signature really. I go with what comes to me naturally, which means about 95% of the time it's in 4/4. The few times I do use another time signature I do it because that's how I heard a melody/riff/beat in my head or a melodic phrase just need more time. I'm not a big fan of forcing an odd time signature. Sometimes it's sounds like people do it just to look smart. Not a fan of that. Always go with what compliments the song.

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motuscott
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Post 06 Jan 2021

If you’re songstering with a riff or a chord progression, that riff or chord progression defines the time signature. My stuff is mostly 4s and 3s but rarely in 8, 12, or 16 measure packages, like 4/4 time but a 7 measure progression.
That way you think you can dance to it, but you can’t.
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joeyluck
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Post 06 Jan 2021

Before I record, I typically write with piano with no metronome. Like many, I gravitate to 4/4, but sometimes I'll realize after the fact that I wrote something that fits better into a different time signature.

Thousand Ways
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Post 06 Jan 2021

A pathetically small percentage of Western music deviates from 4/4. Hardly any pop or rock deviates from it, except the "math rock" genre. Time signatures are the most-ignored aspect of modern popular music, and there are many artists who don't bother to think beyond 4/4 for their entire careers.

Wikipedia has this page, which lists a mix of classical and pop/rock compositions. There's also a brief definition of the difference between simple and compound signatures here.

Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are two rare popular acts that have made a lot of music outside of 4/4. In both cases they haven't just used irregular signatures; they've switched between signatures within a single composition. There has been a lot of online bickering over which time signature/s Radiohead's Pyramid song is in. NIN tracks such as The becoming and Survivalism feature switches of time signature and/or apparent "hiccups" in the signature. There are older examples in rock, such as The Beatles' Happiness is a warm gun. Outside of rock, this this has some particularly great deviations.

This might also be of use.
aeox wrote:
06 Jan 2021
There is a reason most people gravitate towards these time signatures. It's almost primal.
If that was true, then all cultures worldwide would base their music around simple signatures such as 4/4 and 3/4. But they don't. 4/4 seems natural in the West only because we're conditioned by hearing so much of it.
guitfnky wrote:
06 Jan 2021
the best way I’ve found to introduce odd meters into your own music is to listen to a lot of other stuff that isn’t in 4/4 or 3/4. you’ll gradually find yourself more comfortable with different meters, and as that happens, you’ll start to naturally write stuff that’s in odd meters without even thinking about it.
Completely agree.

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miyaru
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Post 06 Jan 2021

Try Cygnus X Book 1 from the Canadien band Rush - where olmost very messure has a different time signature........
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aeox
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Post 06 Jan 2021

Thousand Ways wrote:
06 Jan 2021
A pathetically small percentage of Western music deviates from 4/4. Hardly any pop or rock deviates from it, except the "math rock" genre. Time signatures are the most-ignored aspect of modern popular music, and there are many artists who don't bother to think beyond 4/4 for their entire careers.

Wikipedia has this page, which lists a mix of classical and pop/rock compositions. There's also a brief definition of the difference between simple and compound signatures here.

Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are two rare popular acts that have made a lot of music outside of 4/4. In both cases they haven't just used irregular signatures; they've switched between signatures within a single composition. There has been a lot of online bickering over which time signature/s Radiohead's Pyramid song is in. NIN tracks such as The becoming and Survivalism feature switches of time signature and/or apparent "hiccups" in the signature. There are older examples in rock, such as The Beatles' Happiness is a warm gun. Outside of rock, this this has some particularly great deviations.

This might also be of use.
aeox wrote:
06 Jan 2021
There is a reason most people gravitate towards these time signatures. It's almost primal.
If that was true, then all cultures worldwide would base their music around simple signatures such as 4/4 and 3/4. But they don't. 4/4 seems natural in the West only because we're conditioned by hearing so much of it.
guitfnky wrote:
06 Jan 2021
the best way I’ve found to introduce odd meters into your own music is to listen to a lot of other stuff that isn’t in 4/4 or 3/4. you’ll gradually find yourself more comfortable with different meters, and as that happens, you’ll start to naturally write stuff that’s in odd meters without even thinking about it.
Completely agree.
Maybe so.. it would be interesting to try to just write music without a predetermined signature; to see what came naturally.

Audiol
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Post 07 Jan 2021

I like odd time signatures. :puf_smile: :thumbs_up:

5/4


10/8


7/8

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mcatalao
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Post 07 Jan 2021

When I'm composing I always start by improvising a melody and harmony on the piano or a riff.

The form and division of the riff or the melody break down will dictate the Time signature and tempo of the song.
From there i work with breaking subdivisions for breaks and so on using time sig and tempo automation in reason.

That being said, for pop i use 99% 4/4. For my instrumental stuff i like a lot to write in 6/8 but often delve into 12/8, 5/4 and 7/4.

It's good to learn a bit of Music Theory so if you have the time and will, check out the Wikipedia article on Time signatures. It talks about how time is divided in musical context from regular compass to composite and irregular Time signatures.

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ctreitzell
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Post 27 Jan 2021

odd times is my wheelhouse and always has been
I never get clients to pay for that music, though, obviously

I've been diving into Kompulsion this past week and and what I hear in my mind's ear is equals some very odd time sig. The peice I was working on last last night loops at 8 bars of 4/4+ one 1/16 note...so 8x16+1= 129/16
it doesn't "sound" out of whack...but just so happens to be
the mult and div equalling some oddities...which I dig

I do wish Reason Seq time sig would go into more complex territory; particularly allowing the beats per bar to go beyond 16...at least to 32...oh, well
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ctreitzell
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Post 27 Jan 2021

miyaru wrote:
06 Jan 2021
Try Cygnus X Book 1 from the Canadien band Rush - where olmost very messure has a different time signature........
Very true!
Hemispheres is pretty out there, too lots of 13/16
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how abouts a little King Crimson or UK?

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selig
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Post 27 Jan 2021

Before you even move beyond 4/4 and 3/4, there is a LOT that can be done by combining even just those two sigs in different ways. Like using a 3/4 bar at the end of the verse leading into a chorus, or a pattern like 4/4, 4/4, 4/4, 3/4 that repeats throughout the song. And don't forget 2/4 - it's fairly common to add a 2/4 bar to turn the beat around. IMO Burt Bacharach is the king of this, which you sometimes don't even notice because the lyrics all but demand the odd bar from time to time.

There is also the concept of odd length phrases, an extension of odd bar lengths. This includes things like 12 bar blues (three 4 bar phrases), or oddly divided phrases like "I want to live in America" from West Side Story which has 6/8 and 3/4 phrases.

When moving beyond the basics time sigs you may notice that when you alternate between the above time sigs you get new time sigs. For example, alternating between 4/4/ and 3/4 is basically 7/4. Most odd time sigs are sub divided for counting purposes. For example, Take 5 is in 5/4 but it's sub divided into 3/4 and 2/4. Money is 7/4 but can be sub divided as 3/4 and 4/4 or 4/4 and 3/4 depending on how you "feel" it.

Some other basic time sigs to explore that are not "odd" are 6/8, 6/4, as well as 12/8 and even 9/8. 6/8 is typically 3/8 and 3/8, and 12/8 is typically like 4/4 but with triplets.
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syncanonymous
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Location: UK and France

Post 27 Jan 2021

I worked on having my 13 beats per bar together years ago
and, Like @selig says counting 7s and 6s was very helpful

I also remember being stymied at trying to count Discipline by King Crimson in 17/16
until I realized it's just 4/4+1/16 :-)
Not that that is easy to keep track of...

and the song I thought was in 129/16?...it isn't...it's in 3/16 :exclamation:
loop turnaround at end of 19 bars; start of 20

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Mistro17
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Post 27 Jan 2021

I just did a song in 6/8. At first I tried 3/4 which can sound the same but I needed the click to be in 6/8 to help get my drums right while recording. Those 2 can easily get confused.

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selig
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Post 27 Jan 2021

Mistro17 wrote:
27 Jan 2021
I just did a song in 6/8. At first I tried 3/4 which can sound the same but I needed the click to be in 6/8 to help get my drums right while recording. Those 2 can easily get confused.
The main difference has to do with the underlying pulse, either quarters with 3/4 ot eights with 6/8.
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