Tips & Tricks of the Trade // Music Fundamentals - Irregular Time Signatures



Irregular Time Signatures
- 1 September 2016

Irregular/Complex Time Signatures
All the time signatures discussed in the previous lessons have thus far been good boys and girls. All of them neatly fit into their given Bars with zero hassle - equally very pleasing to jive to.
But now imagine you wanted to crash the party because you now wanted to sleep and Spongebob’s Patrick and his buddies do not seem to be in any mood to leave your house. Irregular Time signatures to the rescue!! Yes! Music of irregular time signatures could either make them leave, or you could at least see people in some otherworldly dance moves - to your amusement of course.
Disclaimer: This trick DOES NOT work on South Africans!

Irregular time signatures (also referred to as Complex Time Signatures) are characterised by not ‘fitting’ snuggly into a Bar in groups of either 3 or 4 notes. Instead, they a are combination of both.

8 over 8 time signature Take the 5/4 time signature for instance, it has 5 measures in a Bar (counted in Crochets) which could then be broken down into groups of 2s and 3s. Example:

Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5)


The 7/8 can be grouped into 3s and 4s like so:

Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7)


The 11/8 can be grouped into 3s and 4s like so:
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8) Clap(9) Clap(10) Clap(11)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8) Clap(9) Clap(10) Clap(11)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8) Clap(9) Clap(10) Clap(11)


Notice also that the numerator tends to be a prime number - a usual give away that the time signature is irregular.

One thing you cannot take away from these odd time intervals is just how awesome they sound when used brilliantly!
Listen to Africappella’s Re Humane ,composed by Vusi Nhlapo. He cleverly combines the 5/4 and the 7/8 time signatures to create a masterpiece.

And there you have it! All the time you need to know about in music. But is it All the time?

- written by MegaMidas
Musician at Africappella

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