Odd Time Signatures In Rock

odd time signatures in rockI thought I would follow up on my ‘Odd Time Signatures Explained’ post with a practical post to help explain a fun area of musical experimentation. This idea came to me many years ago when I was playing a well known 4/4 riff (the intro riff to ‘Living On A Prayer’ by Bon Jovi) which has an eighth note rhythm filling up each bar with exactly 8 notes (eighth notes – 2 per beat, 4 x 2 = 8). This made the song an easy candidate to experiment with time signatures which had an 8 as the lower number in the time signature – simply add or take away the correct amount of eighth notes until the desired number is the met. For example, to play the riff in 7/8, take one note off and repeat, and to play the riff in 9/8 add a note (this one requires a little creativity). In practice a very easy mistake to make is to take off/add on correctly but still play in 4/4 by syncopating or sustaining a note. This is a result of being well trained to play in 4/4 and requires some experience in playing & listening to odd time music and some help in ‘getting’ the jarring nature of odd time. This is where drum machines or, in the case of this post, backing tracks are imperative to correctly understanding odd time.

Experimenting with odd time has led to some of my most enjoyable song-writing sessions and helped me create new and interesting sounds

In the interest of copyright, I won’t be sharing the Bon Jovi experiment mentioned above but will instead be using my own original creation to make my point and help others understand this interesting area of music. I have created a riff in 4/4 which fills up the bar with 8 even eighth notes and have made permutations (either taken off or added on notes congruent with the riff to fit any given time signature) for various different individual exercises which will develop and include the piece in a number of different time signatures/metres within the same exercise. In addition to these basic exercises, which are mostly about gaining a feel for each TS, I will include some examples which use ties and dots to further sophisticate the feel gained in the earlier examples.

Odd Time Signatures In Rock

The count ins for each exercise are in 4/4 and the transcription is at the bottom of the post.

Exercise 1

The original ‘stock’ riff in 4/4

Demo 

Backing Track 

Exercise 2

The 7/8 version with one eighth note ‘sawn’ off’

Demo 

Backing Track 

Exercise 3

The 9/8 version with one eighth note added on

Demo

Backing Track

Exercise 4

In 5/8 – 3 eighth notes sawn off

Demo

Backing Track

Exercise 5

In 11/8 – 3 eighth notes added on

Demo

Backing Track

Exercise 6

The riff in 7/8 with some ties & dots – this is an important part of odd time practice as simply filling up bars with the desired amount of notes to satisfy the TS’s top number all of the time is too mathematic/robotic and needs to be mixed up

Demo

Backing Track

Exercise 7

As above in 9/8

Demo

Backing Track

Exercise 8

A selection of different time signatures mixed together to create a bamboozling/jarring effect. Some of the time signatures have 4 as the lower number and some 8

Demo

Backing Track

And here is the transcription in standard notation & tab form for each exercise –

Download (PDF, 44KB)

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