** As featured in issue 7 **
I love to incorporate mixed meters in my guitar playing, sometimes referred to as “odd” meters or what I affectionately term “Math” Rock. I am frequently asked how I am able to write compositions using numerous different time signatures in a single song. My answer is simply - that is the way I hear the music. I never consciously try to write a song in 5/4, 7/4 or 15/8. I prefer to just write the music as I hear it and then analyse it afterwards. Many times people are confused with mixed or ”odd” meters in music. This is especially true because at a first listen, music using anything other than a straight 4/4 or 3/4 time signature seems hard to comprehend or understand.
What I learned very early in my musical training is that there are only two kinds of meters - duple (2 beats) and triple (3 beats.) The best way to understand odd meters in music is to simplify the counting and divide the musical riff or passage into groups of two’s and three’s. For example, the Pink Floyd song “Money” is in the time signature of 7/4. I first listened to the main riff of “Money” and immediately knew it was 7/4, but I felt the music in terms of the counts 1,2,1,2,1,2,3. If a riff like “Money” is repetitive, another way I comprehend odd meters is to keep counting until the riff ends. My song “Hands Without Shadows” (the title track from my “Hands Without Shadows” record) is written using many different odd meter groupings. The main riff is in 15/8. When I first wrote the riff, I had no idea what time signature it was in. But, I used the technique of counting until the riff repeated itself and came up with 15 beats. That is where I derived the 15/8 time signature from.
I could have also written the riff using three measures of 4/4 and one measure of 3/4. This is the subjective part. When a riff exceeds an odd meter of 7/4, 9/4 or 9/8, one can divide the riff into its duple and triple meter components instead of just calling it 15/8 or 7/8. There is no right or wrong way as long as the counts are equal. Is the “Hands Without Shadows” riff in 15/8 or 4/4, 4/4, 4/4 and 3/4? The answer is - both are correct. A good exercise would be to try doing what I did to the “Crazy Train” main riff and delete one count from the riff. It is a great example of using odd meters and gaining an understanding on how you might incorporate this use of asymmetrical note groupings and odd meters into your music. I sincerely hope this helps!