Simple Guide to Working with Irregular Time Signatures

Need to enhance your songwriting skills? It might be a good idea to try writing irregular time signatures to add more interest and depth to the songs you create. An irregular time signature, also called an asymmetric or uneven beat, occurs when a piece of music does not fall naturally into equal groupings, such as popular 6/8 or 4/4 crotchet groups.

Need to enhance your songwriting skills? It might be a good idea to try writing irregular time signatures to add more interest and depth to the songs you create.

An irregular time signature, also called an asymmetric or uneven beat, occurs when a piece of music does not fall naturally into equal groupings, such as popular 6/8 or 4/4 crotchet groups. Instead, each quaver or crotchet is split up so that the notes cannot possibly be evenly distributed within a beat. The most common irregular time signatures are, therefore, quintuple time (5/4 or 5/8) and septuple time (7/4 or 7/8).

Interested yet? Well, there are a number of famous songs and compositions that have employed irregular time signatures to great effect. They include Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” Pink Floyd’s “Money,” Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer” and the original theme song for “Mission Impossible.”

If you want to try your hand at composing songs with irregular time signatures, here are a few things to consider:

1. Have a goal in mind

You have to decide whether you just want to make some funky tunes or create tracks that people will actually enjoy listening to. It is easy to get carried away with experimenting when it comes on to irregular time signatures, so determine what you want exactly before you begin.

2. Create emphasis with your opening beat

Starting with a strong beat is one of the most effective ways to pull in a listener when composing a song with an irregular time signature. Not only does it warm the listener up to the uncommon beat, it leads them to being expectant of what comes next.

3. Consider how you want to divide the notes you’re working with

The odd-numbered quintuples and septuples allow you to split a quaver or crotchet in several ways due to the presence of a free dotted quarter. Where you put it will determine the sound you end up with, whether at the front, middle or end.

4. Don’t overdo it

Remember you’re creating music for an audience, not for musicians. While people with trained musical ears may appreciate a tune with well-crafted and complex irregular time signatures, a regular listener may find it disconcerting.

Experimenting with irregular time signatures is not as difficult as it might sound initially, you just need to begin and practice a lot. Plus, there are many tutorials online that can help you become even better at it. Try it and let us know how it works out for you.

The SongCat Team
About the Author
The SongCat Team

We believe in supporting artists of all levels of their musical journey, from the 40-year music business veteran, to the burgeoning songwriter who are looking to polish their craft. We also believe that creating professional, high quality, and expertly mixed recordings shouldn’t be limited to high budget record deals.

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