#1
When it comes to writing in odd time signatures (3/4, 6/8, 52/16), do you really have to think a lot about it and how you go do it? Like "Okay, I'm gonna write this junk in 9/8! We'll be so technical."

Or does it kind of just happen as you go about playing?

Like, for example, because I'm so used to Common Time (aren't we all?) that I'll just improvise in Common Time and not have to think twice about it. When reading about dividing measures, one source says to just to write all your notes out without any barlines. Then go back and fill them in wherever you see fit or hear a nice rhythmic feel.

Any tips to writing in odd timings too?
We're all alright!
#2
when i write a lick i try not to add "filler notes" to make it fit into a particular time signiture. If its in 13/16 so be it. If its in 4/4 so be it.
#3
I think that in order to sound genuine when writing and playing in odd times, you have to be able to easily think in them. An easy way to do this is to just listen to music that has all sorts of wacky things happening.

Also, there are certain common grooves, mainly broken into groups of 2's and 3's. For example, listen to the synth riff in Tom Sawyer by Rush. It's set up in 7/8 time, but the pulse across the riff moves like so: 2-2-3 | 3-2-2. Try listening to it and counting along like that in eighth notes. It may seem strange at first, but eventually you'll start to feel it. Eventually, if you really go for it, you might start dividing all music and grooves into these groups of 2's and 3's (and eventually more complex subdivisions, but that's a while off).

As far as playing in odd times just to play in it, there may be some people who randomly add or subtract notes to try to impress other musicians, but genuine music like this is either cultural or added to create a certain feeling symmetrical times can't capture.

Btw, here's that song in case you somehow haven't heard it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsKBIBJj-4M (the riff kicks in at about the minute thirty mark)
Last edited by Johnny_Reano at Oct 10, 2011,
#4
I find it very easy to make beats in non 4/4 rhythm's when I'm playing to a drum track that is in non 4/4. By itself on guitar, it's quite hard for me to do it (and I play drums too).
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#5
I never set out to write in a particular time signature. Usually comes out 4/4 or 3/4. Just occasionally something weirder appears: 7/8 being the next most common. I wouldn't want to force it.
#6
Quote by Jehannum
I never set out to write in a particular time signature. Usually comes out 4/4 or 3/4. Just occasionally something weirder appears: 7/8 being the next most common. I wouldn't want to force it.

This.

I've tried writing in alternating time signatures and it just doesn't sound right to me. I'm more a 4/4 and 3/4 kind of guy. I enjoy progressive music with stuff like 4932/64 or something, but to write in those kinds of signatures just isn't me.
#7
Most of my songs are in odd time signatures. It comes rather natural to me. The 'secret'? I don't set out to write in something; I come up with a rhythm. It's all about the beats.

I repeat: to make something flow, it's all about the beats. It's what separates something good that alternates 13/16 and 4/4, and something bad in 7/8. Just ask a drummer, or better yet, learn to write for drums and pick up on how beats are accented, et cetera. For example, my 13/16 | 4/4 riff I have:

4 3 3 3
4 3 3 3 3

That's how I subdivide the rhythm. See the very strong dotted eighth-note pulse? That's what makes it flow and sound cohesive; it's not jumping around like a fool without any sense of rhythm.

I think that's it... 2, 3 and 4 are good ways to subdivide beats I think.
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#8
All of your replies have been great so far. Thanks guys. Not worrying about filler notes, thinking more in odd timings, and just not forcing it. I'm definitely more of a 4/4 guy, but I'm so interested in odd timings to expand my musical vocabulary and find some other interesting things to come up with when I need it. I really like the idea of just coming up rhythms first. I did that once or twice before every thinking about notes and some pretty cool sounds came up. My mind was quite blown.

One thing that's confusing me is the
2-3-3|3-2-2

and
4 3 3 3
4 3 3 3 3

examples you guys said. I'm not really getting it because I'm thinking of it as the way you'd count out odd timings like 9/8 (1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3), which I'm pretty sure you're getting at but I'm a bit lost in how it lines up. I'm not seeing how you'd make that fall into place in a space of time. I hope that makes sense...
We're all alright!
#9
I don't usually compose in odd time signatures but when I do, I tend to think a lot about it like you said, and follow a certain pattern throughout the song. So far I've only written in 6/8 and 10/8, those two actually feel pretty natural if used well.
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#10
I love sneaking in 5/4, 7/4, and 12/8 into 4/4 songs. 5/4 tends to add tension, particularly in slow (bridge-like) parts in otherwise up-beat metal songs. Adds a layer of depth to the piece, but that's just with me. 7/4 similarly messes with the normal listener, when suddenly a piece goes from 4/4 to something slightly different. 12/8 pushes the song along pretty well, as well as most of the /8 time signatures.

It's all about finding what sounds you want to use in your writing, how to get them, and why you're using them. Just like note choice, key changing, tempo changing, etc., time signatures are just something you can use to get a new sound. Some band thrive on them, and some use 4/4 and make enthralling and even intricate pieces. It doesn't make you more proficient if you use 9/8 and 234234/2 in a song successfully, but bands that can do that and still make pleasing music for the average listener (protest the hero) are rare, which is what causes the train of thought that impressing people is the goal of the game.

If you're good with 4/4 and 3/4, go for it. There's no reason you need to write in anything else other than just testing the waters of your abilities, really.
modes are a social construct
#11
Quote by Mathedes

One thing that's confusing me is the
2-3-3|3-2-2

and
4 3 3 3
4 3 3 3 3

examples you guys said. I'm not really getting it because I'm thinking of it as the way you'd count out odd timings like 9/8 (1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3), which I'm pretty sure you're getting at but I'm a bit lost in how it lines up. I'm not seeing how you'd make that fall into place in a space of time. I hope that makes sense...


I think there's just a mis-communication in what you guys are talking about. Mathedes, you're talking about the way you'd count off notes out loud, so for 9/8 - you might do (1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3). What the other guys are talking about is the way you divide up the notes in the bar. By counting a 9/8 bar as (1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2-3) you are creating 3 groups of 3 notes each. So using the terminology of the other posters, you are thinking of a 9/8 bar as 3-3-3.

Using the Tom Sawyer example, the division is 2-2-3|3-2-2. When counting out loud, you would say:
(1-2, 2-2, 3-2-3) | (1-2-3, 2-2, 3-2)

Both notations are meant to convey the idea that the notes at the start of each group are the ones that get the strongest emphasis.

Does this make more sense?
Last edited by alexbass at Oct 10, 2011,
#12
Like others have said, you don't want to use things like odd time signatures as an overly abstract intellectual excersize or as something that you use simply in the name of being technical. IMO, one should be able to *feel* the time signatures before thinking about formally writing music using them. Once they already are internalized and integrated as part of your musical vocabulary, then it should be pretty natural to make music using them, as something that isn't forced or intellectualized.

If you feel that you've haven't exactly internalized odd time signatures yet, then I'd suggest practising using them (feeling them) to a metronome and finding some songs to learn that are in or make use of odd time signatures (Take 5 by Dave Brubeck is an excellent choice for 5/4).
#13
I will take a look at "Take 5". It might give me another idea other than Holst's "Mars". Haha.

I'm definitely getting a lot out of the replies guys, seriously. Thanks again.

Quote by alexbass
Using the Tom Sawyer example, the division is 2-2-3|3-2-2. When counting out loud, you would say:
(1-2, 2-2, 3-2-3) | (1-2-3, 2-2, 3-2)

Both notations are meant to convey the idea that the notes at the start of each group are the ones that get the strongest emphasis.

Does this make more sense?

I think I'm getting what you're saying. Strongest emphasis you're talking about is like natural accents in the feel of music; that's what I'm getting.

So, in a simple example, it's just like counting 4/4 where 1 and 3 have the strongest (natural) emphasis? And the way I was counting 9/8, the first beat of each grouping of three gets the emphasis?

But I can obviously group 9/8 different where other beats get the accent...like I could count it as 1-2 2-2 3-2-3 4-2 and in translation that would be 2-2-3-2?
We're all alright!
#14
I agree with Brainpolice. Take Five has a very natural flow to it, so it's a great example.

Quote by Dayn
For example, my 13/16 | 4/4 riff I have:

4 3 3 3
4 3 3 3 3
That's 16/16, not 4/4
#15
Quote by Mathedes
But I can obviously group 9/8 different where other beats get the accent...like I could count it as 1-2 2-2 3-2-3 4-2 and in translation that would be 2-2-3-2?
That's pretty much exactly what I mean, I'm glad you understand my terminology. 2-2-3-2 just flows so well, doesn't it? It sounds complicated but it's really quite simple when you get the hang of it. 11/8 could be 2-2-3-2-2, 7/8 could be 4-3 or 2-2-3 or 3-2-2...

You could extend it more, even. I have a 5/8|5/8|5/8|6/8 bit that goes 3-2|3-2|3-2|3-3.

Quote by Jesse Clarkson
I agree with Brainpolice. Take Five has a very natural flow to it, so it's a great example.

That's 16/16, not 4/4

Technically yes if my riff was on it's own, but I write 4/4 because it's easier to read at a glance with a 4/4 polyrhythm behind it. Syncopation ftw.
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#16
Quote by Mathedes

But I can obviously group 9/8 different where other beats get the accent...like I could count it as 1-2 2-2 3-2-3 4-2 and in translation that would be 2-2-3-2?

Correct.

The subdivisions or groupings or whatever you want to call them are just there to describe the natural feel of the music. When notating, you would use 9/8 but when counting and playing, you would rhythmically feel the individual groups within the bar.

In the OP you also asked for tips on writing in odd meters. The method that's worked for me is to create a self-exercise. Think of an odd meter that you want to write in, let's say 7/8. Now think of how you want to divide that rhythmically. Let's say 2-2-3. Now try and write a riff that flows smoothly with that rhythm. If you have Guitar Pro or something similar, you can write out a simple drum beat following that pattern (even something like hi-hats on every 8th with a snare on the accents and then play along with that.

This might sound a bit odd, but I often find that stimulating creativity sometimes comes from imposing a bunch of rules on your own writing, especially rules that you wouldn't normally play under, and then trying to write something that fits. As you play around within this framework, and experiment with different rhythmic and melodic choices, you'll hear some ideas that you like and others you don't. Keep developing your lines and see where it gets you.
#17
I honestly didnt read through the thread, but the riff/strumming pattern determines the time signatures, not ther other way around, IMO. I feel like you shouldn't really go out on purpose to make a song into 17/5.5 time, just write a riff, etc., that sounds good and works for a song.
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#18
I don't always write in odd time signatures, but when I do...I drink Dos Equis.

But as others have said, a lot of times it's more of a "feel" or a rhythm, mostly broken into 2's and 3's.

Obviously there are tons of ways to break up odd sigs out but some of what I've used:

7/8
"1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2"
"1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3"

9/8
"1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3"

5/8
"1-2-3, 1-2"
"1-2, 1-2-3"

etc...

So popping between two signatures (or more) I always thinks like this:
*Strong/Accented beats on "1"

6/8 - 7/8

"1-2-3, 1-2-3" / / "1-2-3, 1-2, 1-2" : //
"X-------X-----" / /"X---------X-----X--"


^Try tapping this out where all the "1"s are with your left hand and the "2s" and "3s" are with your right, you'll start to feel a groove, even though it might feel awkward at first.

The other way to count/look at this would be with the actual numbers

"ONE two three, FOUR five six" / / "ONE two three, FOUR five, SIX seven" : //

Hopefully that helps, that's my "philosophy" when it comes to playing/writing with odd sigs, especially alternating ones.

-Seuss
Last edited by Seuss at Oct 11, 2011,
#19
^ I think that's a pretty important point and adds to what I wrote earlier. Try to get a feel for the groove before you write in it.