Top 10 Weirdest Odd-Time Signature Songs

The results are in, the most peculiar odd-time track awaits inside.

Ultimate Guitar

This week saw you guys debating about the weirdest odd-time signature song of all time. As in most cases, UG community has delivered, check out the goodies you've compiled below.

10. Gojira - "Flying Whales"

Gojira gets to kick off the list with "Flying Whales." Plenty of time signature shifts and different moods in this one, but have you checked out that guy hand-farting the song? Now that's impressive!

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9. Meshuggah - "Marrow"

Masters of weird time signatures continue the rundown. Plenty to choose from here, but you guys opted for this gem off 2012's "Koloss."

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8. Nine Inch Nails - "March of the Pigs"

Alternating three bars of 7/8 time with one bar of 8/8 time, resulting in a 29/8 time signature, the lead single from NIN's classic 1994 album "The Downward Spiral" is up next. Apart from an odd time signature, the track features a not-so-traditional BPM rate of 269.

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7. The Dillinger Escape Plan - "43% Burnt"

Embodying the term hectic, odd time signatures come as one of staple concepts for Dillinger Escape Plan. As you guys noted, "There are a number of tabs on this site and EVERY one of them is incorrect." Sounds like a challenge for all the UG tab masters out there.

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6. King Crimson - "Discipline"

One of the first bands in history to embrace complexity (and give birth to prog rock along the way), King Crimson, is up next with "Discipline." Band delivered quite a few odd-timed tracks during the '80s, and "Discipline" is not a bad choice at all to encompass them. Here's a nice quote from Wikipedia for a better understanding of the tune:

"During the piece the two guitars of Belew and Fripp, respectively, move through the following sequence of pairs of time signatures: 5/8 and 5/8, 5/8 and 4/4, 5/8 and 9/8, 15/16 and 15/16, 15/16 and 14/16, 10/8 and 20/16, 15/16 and 15/16, 15/16 and 14/16, 12/16 and 12/16, 12/16 and 11/16, 15/16 and 15/16, 15/16 and 14/16.

"Throughout the drums play in 17/16 - the Bill Bruford drumming video, 'Bruford and the Beat,' builds up to an explanation of the 17/16 pattern used (including the fact that the 4/4 bass drum pattern is maintained as a 'dance groove') and includes a live performance of the track interleaved with an interview with Robert Fripp about aspects of the track.

"In other interviews Fripp has explained that the track was composed as an exercise in discipline - no single instrument is allowed to take the lead role in the performance, nor to play as simply an accompaniment to the other instruments, but each player must maintain an equal role while allowing others to do the same."

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5. Radiohead - "Pyramid Song"

This one's based around an uncommon subdivision of 8/8 time (3+3+2), swinging the eighth notes. The time could also be perceived as 16/8 subdivided as 3+3+4+3+3. There's also another interpretation based around a drum pattern cycle of 5/4-4/4-4/4-3/4 that repeats itself throughout the tune.

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4. This Town Needs Guns - "Chinchilla"

Kicking off the math rockers' 2008 debut "Animals," "Chinchilla" delivers a laid-back vibe with more than enough odd timings to make the list.

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3. Frank Zappa - "The Black Page #2"

The master of all styles, the prolific, the one and only Mr. Frank Zappa. His "The Black Page" is a piece well-known for complexity, featuring "statistical density" as Frank himself described it.

"It is written in common time with extensive use of tuplets, including tuplets inside tuplets. At several points there is a crotchet triplet (sixth notes) in which each beat is counted with its own tuplet of 5, 5 and 6; at another is a minim triplet (third notes) in which the second beat is a rubato quintuplet (actually a tuplet of 7), and the third beat is divided into tuplets of 4 and 5. The song ends with a crotchet triplet composed of tuplets of 5, 5, and 6, followed by two tuplets of 11 in the space of one," the explanation reads.

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2. Dream Theater - "Dance of Eternity"

This is just one big odd-time extravaganza, featuring time changes almost in every bar. No wonder that beatboxer got so much kudos for his cover, including praises from Mike Portnoy himself. As you guys noted, some of the time signatures used are 3/8, 7/8, 5/8, 7/16, 5/4, 3/4, 6/4, 12/8, 5/16, 15/8, 9/8, 11/8, 6/16, and one section with several bars of 4/4.

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1. Tool - "Schism"

Legendary for its odd timing and 47 time switches, Tool's "Schism" takes the crown this week. Here's a more detailed explanation from Wikipedia: "The song begins with two bars of 5/4, followed by one bar of 4/4, followed by bars of alternating 5/8 and 7/8, until the first interlude, which consists of alternating bars of 6/8 and 7/8.

"The following verse exhibits a similar pattern to the first, alternating bars of 5/8 and 7/8. The next section is bars of 6/4 followed by one bar of 11/8. This takes the song back into alternating 5/8 and 7/8. Another 6/8 and 7/8 section follows, and after this the song goes into repeating 7/8 bars.

"The middle section is subsequently introduced, consisting of three bars of 6/8, one bar of 3/8, and one bar of 3/4 repeating several times. At one point it interrupts with two bars of 6/8 followed by a bar of 4/8, twice. A bar of 5/8 is played before the meter switches back to 6/8 for two bars and 2/4 for one bar.

"This repeats, setting up another section: two bars of 9/8 followed by a bar of 10/8, that pattern again, and then a single bar of 9/8 followed by alternating bars of 6/8 and 7/8. The outro has alternating bars of 5/8 and 7/8, ending with alternating 6/8, 2/8 that one could interpret as pulsing with a 4/4 feel.

"The band has referred to the time signature as 6.5/8. Although many composers would use 13/16 instead, 6.5/8 is still a valid fractional time signature."

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99 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Posted after 9 PM? Wow, UG that's a really odd time .
    This is a great top! But I want to share my list which I gathered from other users' votes and my personal favourites - maybe you will discover something new and interesting for yourself. The list is in alphabetical order (I didn't include songs by bands who are already in UG's top) Animals As Leaders - Earth Departure Between The Buried And Me - Swim To The Moon Björk - Crystalline Blotted Science - Activation Synthesis Theory Can – One More Night Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band – Frownland Caravan - Where But For Caravan Would I Be Converge - Drop Out Dave Brubeck Quartet - Blue Rondo a la Turk Devin Townsend – Deconstruction Devo - Blockhead Dimmu Borgir - Hybrid Stigmata Egg - Symphony No. 2 Fairport Convention - Autopsy Felix Martin - Buttet Gavin Harrison - 19 Days Genesis - Apocalypse In 9/8 Gentle Giant - Cogs In Cogs Gong - Expresso Grateful Dead – The Eleven Haken - Falling Back To Earth John Cage - Music Of Changes Karlheinz Stockhausen - Klavierstuck IX Kayo Dot - Floodgate Led Zeppelin - The Ocean Mahavishnu Orchestra - Celestial Terrestrial Commuters Mastodon – Seabeast Melvins - Resolve Mike Oldfield – Tubular Bells Miles Davis - Bitches Brew Mr. Bungle - Love Is A Fist Mudvayne - Internal Primates Forever Phish - Split Open And Melt Pink Floyd - Money Porcupine Tree - Open Car Primus – Eleven Protest The Hero - Bloodmeat PsyOpus - Imogen's Puzzle Queens Of The Stone Age - I Think I Lost My Headache Rolo Tomassi - Cosmology Ron Jarzombek - Headache And A 64th Rudresh Mahanthappa - Enhanced Performance Rush - Freewill Slint - Nosferatu Man Soundgarden - Spoonman Steven Wilson - Remainder The Black Dog System Of A Down - Question TesseracT - Concealing Fate Pt. 1 [Acceptance] The Allman Brothers Band - Whipping Post The Mars Volta – Cotopaxi The Stranglers – Golden Brown Them Crooked Vultures - Spinning Ib Daffodils Tori Amos - God Tortoise - Charteroak Foundation Van Der Graaf Generator – Man-Erg Veil Of Maya - Namaste
    ...oh is that all?!
    Hah, of course no
    See this is what these lists should be - a good chance for people to find new bands and songs to get into. Not a pissing contest of who has the more obvious, popular band. QOTSA might as well have won anyways since they always win because popularity matters more than legitimacy. other songs from those bands worth checking out in terms of odd time signatures - BTBAM - White Walls Blotted Science - Ingesting Blattaria Devin Townsend - Ants Mastodon - Capillarian Crest Mr Bungle - Carry Stress in the Jaw Mars Volta - Cygnus Vismund Cygnus (mostly for that strange bridge in the middle, and the ending riff) Some other bands that deserve mention (and their respective strange songs) - Atheist - Mother Man Gorguts - Obscura Cryptopsy - In the Kingdom where Everything Dies, The Sky is Mortal Vektor - Tetrastructural Minds Voivod - Nothingface Watchtower - Control and Resistance.
    I love that you threw Vektor, Voivod, & Watchtower on the "mention" list. Excellent bands -- bands everyone should check out!
    From lists like this on UG in the past i have discovered lots of stuff. sepultura(had NEVER heard of them before) and Kyuss. Gardenia is now one of my all time favourite riffs.
    Nice to see Gentle Giant's 'Cogs in Cogs' mentioned there. The intro and verse are really weird and unlike anything I've heard. But the best part is during the 'circles' break where it actually goes polymetric for a while. Pretty funky song too
    On the subject of Led Zeppelin, I'd have added Black Dog. Half the reason it was written how it is was so that people couldn't dance to it.
    Wasn't it so other bands couldn't cover it?
    Writing a song in a less than common time signature doesn't stop people from covering it. It's not like they're the only people capable of playing that rhythm.
    It says on Wikipedia that aside from preventing people from dancing to it, the complex rhythms were also chosen to thwart cover bands from playing, though there is no citation for the last part. So I shouldn't believe everything on Wikipedia.
    One could put Jesus, Einstein, Bach and Bill Gates rolled into one -- there will be someone to duplicate it; albeit, not created, but a dup. nonetheless. It is similar to reading the works of Shakespear, Bach or Beethoven.
    Sorry for riding the top comment's dick here, but this would be best higher up. 43% burnt has a jazzy midsection that is flooded with time signatures. The structure of this section is ABB, the main mistake that these TABs have is that the B section is missing a bar of 5/8 at the end of it, which in turn throws off the next B section and brings you to the end far too soon. Other than that, the tabs for it are pretty stellar, it just sucks that it took 9 months on and off to figure it out.
    Love pyramid song, one of the best from Radiohead
    I would have put Sail to the Moon instead as far as weird time signatures, but I do love Pyramid Song too.
    IIRC Sail to the moon has [i]technically 45 changes (yes, I counted), though it's debatable seeing as many of the changes don't go past 5/4, and many of the smaller shifts can be argued to actually amass slightly larger time signatures (6/4, and sometimes 7/4). I'd say a good estimate would be to roughly take a quarter of the shifts, and put it at a total 33-34 changes.
    Pyramid Song is just 3-2-3 over and over though, which actually comes out to 8, so it's even.
    Floyd Phoenix
    Nice list, I always wonder how many songs were intentionally written with the weird time signatures and how many just happened...
    Fuck, I knew "Discipline" was complicated, but I had no idea it was THAT complicated...
    You literally have to count every single bar and note perfectly, or else the whole thing can come crashing down. I've played along doing Fripp's part, it's so difficult.
    replica_ · Aug 02, 2014 11:10 AM
    Just putting this out there, and people may hate it cause it's UG, but After the Burial? Pi (The Mercury God of Infinity)? Even reading the description confuses me:
    Expectations fulfilled. Tool No.1
    Since the list was mostly popularity-based, and most people's big name band when it comes to odd times is Tool...everyone knew Tool would be no. 1. Although, I don't think they deserve it. /shrug
    Floyd Phoenix There are some expressionist or just plain weird classical pieces that are even weirder than the pieces here, though some on the wiki page are a lot harder to listen to..
    In the original question I posted John Cage's "Music of Changes". Pieces composed out of "chance"--beyond the time signature! Haha.
    Great list, but this has to be said - there is no such thing as an 8/8 time signature, you would count it as a 4/4 because the subdivision of 8/8 would be exactly the same as 4/4. The difference between time signatures that could be divided into another time signature (like 6/8 into 3/4.for example) is in beat division, not speed. Also, the 3+3+2 rhythm that defines "Pyramid Song" is actually very common in latin music (so common that it is actually given a name - "montuno.") Obviously, Radiohead plays it very differently than a latin jazz or traditional latin band would but its actually fairly common). Finally, the Frank Zappa tune (and just about every Meshuggah tune) is just a syncopated 4/4. Syncopation can give the allusion of a different time signature, but all it is just a creative take on common time.
    How ocme I knew that specific Tool song was going to be number one before clicking this. Anyway, glad to see Gojira on this I really enjoy their stuff.
    Harry Marsh
    I'm surprised the 19/8 section in Soundgardens 'Rusty Cage' wasn't nominated.
    Good call. I think Soundgarden wasn't on people's minds for this one in part because they make their odd time stuff seem so natural, it doesn't always come off as 'weird'. Even some of their really 'accessible' stuff is in 5/4; they just don't shove the '5/4-ness' of it into your face. Kinda brilliant, really.
    I respect bands that can make odd time signatures catchy way more than bands that just throw them in randomly because we're all accustomed to 4/4, 3/4, or variations of it. Making it sound normal but still be off is an impressive skill.
    I do believe that Alestorm's Nancy The Tavern Wench is worth a mention, it's in like 3/8
    I can play Schism but I don't have a clue about time signatures. Amazing song and music video.
    Switch 2 and 1 and this list is perfect. Schism isn't that complicated once you dissect it although it is weird. The Dance of Eternity on the other hand is extremely complicated.
    Schism is al about feel once you start playing it. it was probably written in free time and then later written into a time signature.
    Not even the Frayed Ends of Sanity? That bridge part is the sole reason Metallica didn't play the song in it's entirety for about 30 years!
    I think John Cage's "4:33" should have been on this list, because it incorporates all possible time signatures.
    His "chance" pieces also share the same incorporation of time signature in essence.
    Sad Mudvayne never got mentioned, they have some amazing pieces that are progressive in nature.. their earlier stuff anyway like Severed or Trapped In The Wake Of A Dream.
    Great list, sorry to be that guy but it's a travesty BTBAM aren't featured. They are truly next-level.
    Some of my favourites: Animals As Leaders - Another Year Tera Melos - Melody 4 (Basically any song of theirs) Blotted Science - Cretaceous Chasm Chon - Breathe Corelia - Aviation The Fall Of Troy - "You Gotta Wish, Johnny Traunt?" / A Man.A Plan.A Canal.Panama The Number Twelve Looks Like You - Imagine Nation Express (again, most of their songs) Periphery - The Summer Jam Plini - Tarred And Feathered (Just check this out!) Protest The Hero - Blindfolds Aside The Sound Of Animals Fighting - Another Leather Lung This Town Needs Guns - Cat Fantastic Happy listening.
    "Alternating three bars of 7/8 time with one bar of 8/8 time, resulting in a 29/8 time signature" Wouldn't that be 29/32? And Tool "Lateralus" using Fibonacci sequence is more badass.
    Basically, in fractional arithmetic you only add the numorator. Though, you don't add time signatures in music to one global time signature. So it's three bars of 7/8 with one bar of 8/8. That dose not make it one 29/8 bar. It's usually a matter of accentuation.
    I know its not metal or rock, but check out Andre Nickatina's rapping over the guitar lick.
    Zappa's explanation on the Black Page made my head explode, implode back and then explode again
    all these time signatures seem really simple in front of
    the time signature used is e/pi e=2.71.....(exponential constant) pi=3.14.....(ratio of circumference to diameter of a circle)
    "Legendary for its odd timing and 47 time switches" That ain't even much, Breaking All Illusions by Dream Theater has 169 time switches (not 100% sure of the exact number).
    Surprised Money by Pink Floyd is not on here.
    I think the fact that it's not proves that this wasn't just a big popularity contest. Money is an awesome song, and it uses 7/8, but really, it's nowhere near as weird, rhythmically, as anything that did make the list. Half a song in 7/8 then a guitar solo in 4/4 isn't exactly weird or complicated, compared to Tool and Dream Theater songs with dozens, if not hundreds, of time changes.
    Everything on that King Crimson song that isn't in normal time just sounds like clutter and noise. Such a terribly overrated one-hit wonder.
    Lol. Okay buddy.
    Well, what does the average Joe know by them except 21st century? And none of the original members except the guitarist play in the band, how exactly do you even call them a band? In that song, there is a basic drum beat, and an accompanying main guitar, both in 4/4. The rest is just pointless noise masquerading as complexity.
    *sigh* Ok, I get the impression you haven't really listened to that much King Crimson. First off, I will admit that their more free-form stuff is a bit hit and miss but it is mainly improv, also they have done one or two not great albums and I'm saying this as a fan. The song UG chose was perhaps one of the easier ways to show off their use of odd time sigs but I wouldn't call it one of their great songs personally. If you want to understand why, in my opinion, king Crimson are such a great band listen to Red, In the wake of Poseidon or In the court of the crimson king, like most prog it takes a good listen to get into.
    schism over dance of eternity? really? cmon guys, there's over 100 time signature changes for dance of eternity, shouldn't that be enough?