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Thread: time signature applications in song writing question

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    Member johnfkingmatrix's Avatar
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    Wink time signature applications in song writing question

    hello,

    hoping this isnt too subjective, but..

    in song writing, im wondering if there is like a quick sheet/consensus on how each time signature feels/what it does to a piece? with applications in pop music

    for instance, having a chorus be 4/4 seems to be a given, since it is the "release" the verses tension has built up. so, if one could say 4/4 is the release, what would be a good time signature to "build up tension" in the verse?

    i'd argue 5/4 sounds slow and plodding, like a giant elephant walking..
    maybe 7/8 or 3/4 sound incomplete or something, and the 4/4 chorus resolves this? as examples..

    does anyone have any resources on the applications/feel of various time signatures, or even just your opinion?

    I think as someone trying to write songs, it would be nice to have a tangible grasp on what each time signature does and can be pulled out for.

    Thanks
    Last edited by johnfkingmatrix; Mar-19-2021 at 21:25.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    I don't think you will find any useful guidance on the feel of different meters because the same meter can feel and sound completely different depending on the tempo, how it's subdivided, the rhythm of the harmonic changes and melody, the mode, etc.

    3/4 doesn't sound incomplete, 7/8 only does so when people don't know how to write for it. 5/4 only sounds plodding if one writes it that way.

    Generally, pop tunes are in one meter throughout. If the chorus is in 4/4, chances are the rest of it is also in 4/4. In prog rock and prog metal, 5/4, 5/8, 7/8, 11/8, etc., are common.

    As for composing, however, just write what sounds good and worry about what meter it's in afterward. What kind of "pop" are you wanting to write?

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    I don't think you will find any useful guidance on the feel of different meters because the same meter can feel and sound completely different depending on the tempo, how it's subdivided, the rhythm of the harmonic changes and melody, the mode, etc.

    3/4 doesn't sound incomplete, 7/8 only does so when people don't know how to write for it. 5/4 only sounds plodding if one writes it that way.

    Generally, pop tunes are in one meter throughout. If the chorus is in 4/4, chances are the rest of it is also in 4/4. In prog rock and prog metal, 5/4, 5/8, 7/8, 11/8, etc., are common.

    As for composing, however, just write what sounds good and worry about what meter it's in afterward. What kind of "pop" are you wanting to write?
    thanks.
    i do write stuff and worry about how it sounds, but i think forcing myself to do other metres would add diversity.
    i was trying to write power metal, i was listening to symphony X .

    how does one "write" for 7/8 correctly? or, where do i find out? i have a really hard time making my brain do anything other than 4/4. my brain always wants to compose cadences that resolve in 4/4. how do break this and make 7/8 not sound like i chopped the last beat of a bar off?
    Last edited by johnfkingmatrix; Mar-19-2021 at 22:46.

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    Senior Member Vasks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnfkingmatrix View Post
    how does one "write" for 7/8 correctly?
    The most easiest way is to create a melody using all 8th notes. Then group the 7 of them one of the following ways (a) 3 + 2 +2 (b) 2 + 2 + 3 or (c) 2 + 3 + 2. Figure out chords underneath afterwards.

    Later on you can replace two adjacent 8ths with a quarter note &/or replace three adjacent 8ths with a dotted quarter note
    Last edited by Vasks; Mar-19-2021 at 23:29.
    "Music in any generation is not what the public thinks of it but what the musicians make of it"....Virgil Thomson

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    The way to learn how to write and think in 7 is to listen to lots of music in 7, playing back songs in your head until the feel of the meter gets into your bones. Here are six tunes that use 7/4 or 7/8 pretty fluently and don't sound like 4/4 with a bit chopped off:


    Pink Floyd — “Money” — 7/4 divided 4 - 3. The solo section is in 4 because it’s easier to improvise in 4.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpbbuaIA3Ds


    King Crimson — “Level Five” — The main riffs are in 7 (2 - 2 - 2 - 1); there are occasional bars of other meters:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moN8lwydfQI


    Oregon — “Street Dance” — Fast 7 divided 2 - 2 - 3

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQQc453al10


    Frank Zappa — “Yellow Snow” The opening pattern is in 7 (2 - 4 - 1):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpNn1nht0_8


    King Crimson — “Frame by Frame.” The opening and the verses are in 7 (2 - 2 - 3), it goes to 4/4 for the instrumental parts between:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpMyf9EJDFA


    Genesis — "Dance on a Volcano." Nearly all of this is in 7:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TBcnjx05a1s


    For a classical piece in seven try the finale of Prokofiev's Seventh piano sonata.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Mar-20-2021 at 04:22.

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    Dave Brubeck never plods in the 5/4 "Take 5", nor does Tchaikovsky in his symphony 6.

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    Quote Originally Posted by david johnson View Post
    Dave Brubeck never plods in the 5/4 "Take 5",
    i would argue that sounds exactly like an elephant walking, only confirming my theory haha.

    Thanks for the examples guys, i listened to them all.

    I think the solution i found is: knowing which beats to emphasize .
    i did some reading it says 7/8 is often emphasized 1 4 6 , how do you conclude which beats to emphasize?
    if i had to guess, id say.. you find what makes that time signature mathematically unique, and then emphasize those beats, or else its just going to sound like the common denominator that your ear naturally gravitates towards.

    also, pink floyd song does "resolve" to 4/4 at various points in the song? it seems like it would be a good songwriting technique to have chorus in 4/4 after some foray into another time sig

    https://music.stackexchange.com/ques...time-signature

    ^one of the answers towards the end is talking about harmonic stress, thats kind of the "resolution" i was asking about

    but still, at the end, i was wondering if there was a list of time signatures and their associated effects, like you can with modes.
    lydian is dreamy spacey floating, phygian is dark egyptian, mixolydian sounds like an epic rock ballad, etc etc
    surely time signatures have similar qualities?
    Last edited by johnfkingmatrix; Mar-25-2021 at 19:34.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Emphasizing 1, 4, 6 in septuple meter is pretty rare in my experience. Can't think of an example off the top of my head.

    Time signatures don't have any set expressive qualities. There's too much variation in tempo and the way they're subdivided, not to mention harmonic and melodic factors. All of the examples I posted have completely different feels and moods.

    You're looking for easy answers and generalizations. They don't exist.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
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    Exactly. Please stop looking for ways for the music to just “write itself” automatically.

    i would argue that sounds exactly like an elephant walking, only confirming my theory haha.
    As EB said, you could just change the tempo and the feel is different (paraphrase).



    if i had to guess, id say.. you find what makes that time signature mathematically unique, and then emphasize those beats,
    That’s not enough, though, if you are trying to give the music style, flavor, etc. That’s only one of several factors as listed in post above.

    I hope you have heard of the classic rock band, The Police. Many of their classic hits utilize two styles in the same time signature (4/4) in the same song(s). They’ll do the tension/buildup in the verses with a reggae style which emphasizes 2 and 4 as strong, then will “release” the tension in the choruses with the straight rock rhythms (“chicken beats” to coin the Zappa term) which emphasizes the opposite beats (1 and 3). But it’s the SAME time signature. Couple of examples:





    My 7/8 example, compare and contrast the following two compositions written in 7/8 time. They are both subdivided exactly the same (2 + 2 + 3). The first example is the first movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (Psalm 100). The tempo is fast and the style and flavor he seems to be going for is this sort of Americana dance that kind of alludes to South American influence (without being exactly derivative) a la Copland of the 30’s and 40’s. I’ve timestamped it, but it lasts from 0:44 to 3:40 for reference.



    The second example is Brubeck’s Unsquare Dance. It’s got a bluesy progression and melody, is in a different medium/instrumentation, and sounds quite different.



    mixolydian sounds like an epic rock ballad
    I disagree with this as well as your other assessments and generalizations. And you are aware modes were used centuries ago, right?

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    thanks for your time guys, im learning a lot.

    Yes thats a good point @ modes existing for so long, my contemporary mixolydian description is clearly flawed, but, its possible lydian sounded floating and dreamy 2000 yeas ago ; )

    so 1. DOES time signature have a tangible bearing upon what the listener hears???
    if the answer is no, i guess that answers my question completely.

    why do we even bother with it? its just a more convenient way to notate the compositions we come up with? im having a difficult time understanding that there is NO effect , compositionally.. i mean MINOR and MAJOR is definitely quantized, and has an effect, right? as well as tempo... Why wouldn't rhythm (thats what time signature essentially is, right) ?

    are you saying there are just so many more variables with time sig, as opposed to how our ear hears a minor third (For instance). and pitch/harmonization is just much more concrete/ objective?

    i mean.. as a writer, the more tools you have in your toolbox, the more you can draw from to create , right? You guys dont look at time signatures as compositional tools? Thats really the root of my question

    PS. yeah i like the roxanne song a lot, the notation i found has the guitar playing triplets (if im reading that poperly)
    https://www.songsterr.com/a/wsa/the-...e-tab-s21943t0

    and the drums playing 8th notes with no clear emphasis that i can discern. isnt this just a polyrhythm? how it emphasizes 2 and 4?

    https://www.songsterr.com/a/wsa/the-...m-tab-s21943t2
    Last edited by johnfkingmatrix; Mar-26-2021 at 20:37.

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    -does time signature affect what the listener hears
    *if no, that answers my question

    -if yes, why cant we quantize that to a degree
    *are you sure we cant? there has to be SOME properties of a time sig

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnfkingmatrix View Post
    -does time signature affect what the listener hears
    *if no, that answers my question

    -if yes, why cant we quantize that to a degree
    *are you sure we cant? there has to be SOME properties of a time sig
    Time signature, meter that is, can very much affect what the listener hears and feels, but it depends on numerous factors. Ten different pieces in 3/4 can all have different effects, depending on how the rhythms relate to the meter.

    I would recommend that instead of looking for generalizations, which will inevitably be of little use, that you experiment with writing songs or chord progressions in different meters, and that when you listen to music, that you always identify the meter and the effect it is having. This is a case where work is required, not talk. No amount of theorizing or speculating is going to get you where you want to go. Listening work and writing work is the way to learn.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Mar-26-2021 at 21:23.

    Your frogs make me shudder with intolerable loathing and I shall be miserable for the rest of my life remembering them.
    — Mikhail Bulgakov, The Fatal Eggs

    Originality is a device untalented people use to impress other untalented people and to protect themselves from talented people.
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnfkingmatrix View Post
    -does time signature affect what the listener hears
    *if no, that answers my question

    -if yes, why cant we quantize that to a degree
    *are you sure we cant? there has to be SOME properties of a time sig
    1. Yes
    2. Not sure. I know that this wouldn't be anything like the music you are working on, but don't write off classical music. If you listen to Tchaikovsky's music the heart-on-sleeve composer offers some clear associations between meter and mood. In the 19th century 3/4 is often a waltz, and 4/4 with marked accents is often a march. In Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite the waltz and march are easy to find, simplified for children but appealing to all ages. Then in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6 (Pathetique) there are the second movement -- a 5/4 waltz that is no elephant, but just off-kilter I think, and the third movement -- a powerful "super-march," all I think maybe foreshadowing the tragic finale.

    One more thing concerning meter: a lot of time the assymetrical metres like 5/4, 7/8/, 11/8 are associated with folk dances of different cultures that merit research and listening. For example the zortziko, a Basque dance whose rhythm found its way into 19th century French classical music, or the Slavic folk dances in meters like 7/8 or 11/8 that influenced eastern European composers. Being sensitized to the ways things have been done from actual examples is important. But I think that you are right also, that thinking from a creative point of view is different than thinking from an analytical one.

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    and the drums playing 8th notes with no clear emphasis that i can discern. isnt this just a polyrhythm? how it emphasizes 2 and 4?
    It's straight up reggae, john. In the verses. The emphasis is clearly on 2 and 4 in reggae. It's the opposite of the traditional emphasis of 1 and 3 in 4/4 time. There are no polyrhythms whatsoever.

    It emphasizes 2 and 4 the same way rock 'n roll emphasizes 1 and 3. With the BASS DRUM. In rock, the bass drum plays on 1 and 3 and the snare is on 2 and 4 (the "back-beats"), right? Well, in reggae, it's the opposite. Look at the link you posted for the drum part. The bass is on the F space, the bottom space (if reading it as a treble clef). Notice how in the reggae parts it never plays on 1 or 3? It plays on 2 and 4. Also notice how he emphasizes it even further by playing a PICKUP to the strong beat (2), playing the "and" of 1 ("and 2"..."and 2"...etc...etc...).

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    Quote Originally Posted by david johnson View Post
    Dave Brubeck never plods in the 5/4 "Take 5", nor does Tchaikovsky in his symphony 6.

    Nor, it seems, does Blind Faith in their classic "Do What You Like".



    Rather, that's one 'ell of an elephant ride.

    And in "All You Need Is Love", the Beatles alternate between 4/4 and 3/4 for much of the song, yet one hardly notices this 7/4 rhythm. And when they get to the Chorus, it seems they've established 4/4 until they throw in a 2/4 bar before resuming the 7/4 pace. A fascinating odd-rhythm study in rock music, this song.


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