Hey guys and girls!

I've taken it upon myself to start learning Illumination Theory by Dream Theater.
However in doing so, it has sparked my interest in different time signatures as well as polymeters/rhythms.

For those of you familiar with section II. of the song Illumination Theory, as tabbed it starts out in 12/8 consisting mainly of 8th notes but when listening to the track all I can hear 4/4 consisting mainly of triplets merely at a slower tempo, where the tempo is sync'd with the ride of the drums. Can someone help me wrap my head around this with an explanation? Am I thinking of it wrong or can either way be right.

Thank you!

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Most likely it can be either way. I played in a Dream Theater tribute band many years ago, and we switched quite a few members out during the duration of that band. Anyhow, many of the keyboardists and drummers would have different charts of time signatures when we were rehearsing, some sections are up for interpretation when it comes to what time signatures you play, as long as the total amount of measures are equal. I believe Portnoy discussed this in one of his drum DVDs, that if they had a measure of 9/8 he would experiment and see how he could break up that to be more interesting. (one measure of 3/8 + one of 4/8 + one of 2/8)

For example, one of the drummers i played with wrote out one section from The Dance of Eternity as 11/4, while another wrote it our like alternating between 5/4 and 6/4. It depends on how you feel it, and that section had one distinct feeling while playing with the first drummer, and another feeling while playing with the second. Personally, i felt it grooved more with the drummer who switched between 5/4 and 6/4.

I don't know which section you are talking about with illumination theory though, maybe 'cause i don't enjoy the new album so much. Care to share the time-stamps?
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12/8 has 4 beats, just like 4/4. They're quite similar time signatures!

12/8 divides each beat into 3, but 4/4 has no pre-defined subdivision. Hence 4/4 can be played "swung," "straight," with triplets etc.
12/8 is not an odd time signature (or I think it could be, depending on the accents, for example 7+5/8 - but then again, you could notate it in 5/8 and 7/8 alternating which to me would make more sense). Normally it's just 4/4 with triplets. It's kind of similar to 6/8 which is 2/4 with triplets.

A lot of blues is in 12/8 but it's usually just notated in 4/4 with triplets. But they are basically the same thing.
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Last edited by MaggaraMarine at Jan 18, 2015,
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There's a big difference between time signatures and polyrhythms.

Metric structure shows how a bar can be broken down into beats and subdivisions of a beat. So, you can have a time sig of 11/4, with subdivision of 3 ... meaning there are 11 beats to the bar, each beat is broken into a triplet, and if the beat-per-minute is 100, then 100 1/4 notes occur in a minute. For the metric structure to come out, the bar start and the beats need emphasis.

Then, having something like 2 bars of 11/4, 1 bar of 3/4, 1 bar of 9/8 ... this is a set of metric structures, creating a complex effect ... but it's still not a polyrythm.

Polyrhythm is where you have (at least) two separate and different metric structures, occurring together. It may take several bars of one of these to lapse before they coincide on beat one of a bar ... and that cycle repeats.

For example, if we have 4/4 (with 1/16th note subdivisions ... i.e. 4 x 4 sixteenths in the bar), and 3/4 (with 1/16th note subdivisions, with 3 x 4 sixteenths in its bar), and these start at the same time, and each one's beat is accented, it would need 3 bars of 4/4 (or 4 bars of 3/4) to lapse before they both coincide on beat one.

This creates a very cool effect (great for rock riffs).

There is a lot more to it than the above, obviously.

cheers, Jerry
Last edited by jerrykramskoy at Jan 18, 2015,
As other people have said 4/4 with straight triplets and standard 12/8 are the same thing. 12/8 most commonly has 4 beats of 3 eighth notes.

Also remember that polyrhythm and polymeter are different things. Polymeter is what Jerry explained up ^ there, where there is two different time signatures at the same time (the beat stays the same though). Polyrhythm is something similar where you have two beat structures over top of each other, but within the same time signature. Most common are two over three and three over four.

This vid is super annoying because they used an impulse as a click for some reason, but it's a clear demonstration (you can skip to like 3:00 or so when it speeds up):

Usually polymeter are bigger structures that resolve over several measures (if they ever do) whereas polyrhythms often resolve after a beat. Like triplets at the same time as straight eighths.

There is also polytempo, where both the beat and meter disagree, but I doubt you'd ever want to use that.