Time Signature Geek-a-palooza

Dave Cracked Up (Blog), Creating, Music/Audio, Teaching 4 Comments

As most people who follow me know, I teach music theory part time at the Art Institute up here in Vancouver. Sometimes I’m tapped to teach the rudiments section and one of my favourite classes to teach is the one on time signatures. I start off with simple time (2,3 and 4 as the “numerator” of the time signature) and then move into compound (6, 9 and 12 as the “numerator”) time.  This takes quite a while to get their heads around – the classes are four hours long and these two topics usually take up the entire time.

In the next session, I introduce them to the concepts of complex or hybrid time signatures (appending duple and triple time) and play them a few examples I’ve been able to scrounge up – mostly 7/4:

I’ll also throw in Tom Sawyer (Rush) and Turn It On Again (Genesis) to talk about stringing different time signature together.

Get Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

Then to really mess with their minds, I’ll put on a couple of songs that overlay two distinct time signatures to illustrate how they can be used to create some odd tension and release:

Say Hello by April Wine

This one takes a while to sink in:

  • the drums are playing a 3-bar loop of essentially a 4/4 beat
  • the rest of the band is working in 4 bar phrases of 6/8 (in a more duple fashion 4/8+2/8)

They all sync up at the end/beginning of their respective loops.

Right Hand Man by Joan Osborne

Same idea of two beats overlapping:

  • the band playing in 7/4
  • the drums are playing duple time (sounds like 3 bars of 4/4 and 1 bar of 2/4)

They line up at the end of two phrases. The entire band comes together to play in 7/4 through the chorus, and then goes into the duplicity again in the verses.

Anyone else have some odd time signature discoveries?

This is total audio-nerd-ranch kind of stuff – but I find it fascinating.  Plus, I’d love more examples in my back pocket!

Comments 4

  1. Some selections from the Rice/Lloyd-Webber musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” have odd meters (although using them in a school setting…hmmm?).

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