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Calculating time signatures of songs

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  • Calculating time signatures of songs

    I just found this article in Wikihow for calculating time signatures of songs. It is a simple method with 5 "simple" steps for calculating the time signature of a song. I have applied it to songs with known time signatures and it works for most of the songs I have tried but it can be tricky specially for the determining the bottom number of the time signature. if you guys can elaborate more about the method I would appreciate it.

    http://www.wikihow.com/Calculate-the...ture-of-a-Song

    Cheers

    ------------------------------------------------
    Roland TD6-KW+VEX's

  • #2
    This isn't going to help much but it's largely a matter of convention. Consider common time (4/4) vs. cut time (2/2). They're both duple meter. You could imagine 2/2 as just 4/4 but twice as fast (e.g., considering quarter notes). Is that tune 3/4 or 6/8? Conceivably you could write it either way, but if the tempo (bpm) comes out very fast or very slow, perhaps you might consider an alternate.

    For example, I have a transcription of ELP's Tarkus that shows the opening in 5/4. I think of it as a lively 10/8 (the repeating melody is literally 10 eighth notes in a row).

    See, the bottom number is the note that's worth "a beat". What's not said is just how long that "beat" is. So you really have to tie the time signature to a tempo (bpm) for it to make sense. Thus my 6/8 tune at 200 BPM might be someone else's 3/4 tune at 100 BPM (but by convention if it's a legato melody it would make more sense to call it 3/4). Either way, in one minute I get 200 eighth notes while the other guy gets 100 quarter notes. We both get 25 whole notes.
    Last edited by JimFiore; 01-09-09, 10:30 AM.

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    • #3
      I see what you mean, and I know all this time signature thing is just a convention for being able to convert music into a portable and transmitable resource.

      I'm trying hard to understand it though for I feel it is important in order to be able to understand my other bandmates and communicate with them. I'm not a musician and I feel the need to try to speak their language and to understand it so that they do not have to put up with my ignorance all the time

      In the case of your example it would make total sense to say that it is in 10/8 right?

      ------------------------------------------------
      Roland TD6-KW+VEX's

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      • #4
        Do a search on the net for time signature. There are many helpful links dealing with the subject in more detail particularly in dealing with Simple Time 2/4, 4/4 and compound 6/8, 12/8.

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        • #5
          I suggest a purchase of Dave Stewart's book "The Musicians Guide to Reading & Writing Music". An easy read. Stewart is the former keyboard player with National Health and Bruford. Very entertaining writing style. It's cheep too, like $10.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Synkopat View Post
            I just found this article in Wikihow for calculating time signatures of songs. It is a simple method with 5 "simple" steps for calculating the time signature of a song. I have applied it to songs with known time signatures and it works for most of the songs I have tried but it can be tricky specially for the determining the bottom number of the time signature. if you guys can elaborate more about the method I would appreciate it.

            http://www.wikihow.com/Calculate-the...ture-of-a-Song

            Cheers
            That's a lame website. There are not "4th notes," only quater notes. I suppose this is fine for the basics, but how would you count 21/16?
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            • #7
              I think the steps are fine if just a bit vague. Ultimately, you count 21/16 the same way you count 4/4 or 6/8. The "4th" note thing is probably just a dumb typo, regional dialect, or some editor's idea of "stylistic consistency". Anyway, it's pretty obvious they meant quarter notes.

              But really, get the Dave Stewart book. Well worth $10.

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              • #8
                I just read all of this and my brain is now all mushy....

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                • #9
                  Thanks for the tips. I have done a lot of searches in the web and the only thing more or less understandable and that I could put into practice was thta wikihow. I guess this is one of those subjects where the paper literature is the way to go...

                  ------------------------------------------------
                  Roland TD6-KW+VEX's

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                  • #10
                    The bottom number is indeed a fill-in to the top number (shows the type of beat the top number refers to) but, more importantly -- especially for a drummer -- indicates the accent pattern that is intended.

                    Beat accents will rarely fall on something that is not indicated on the bottom number -- so you generally won't have an offbeat accent (unless otherwise noted) between two of those types of notes. So, taking it to an example...

                    Many people think that 3/4 and 6/8 are the same. 3/4 CAN, in fact, be scored in the middle of a 6/8 passage, but the opposite is not true. 3/4 is 3 quarter notes, so the natural accents fall on quarter notes. Most typically, the dominant accent is on 1 and there may be a sub-accent on the 3rd quarter note. In 6/8, however, the accents will fall on the 8ths, so this is where you see the first and fourth eighth-note as primary accents. 1 & a 2 & a.

                    After listening to a snippet of the intro to Tarkus as noted above, I'd consider that 10/8 as well; but not because they're playing eighth notes or because it "feels quick", but because it accents 1 & a 2 & a 3 e & a... It's not accenting on the quarters.

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                    • #11
                      Phil,

                      I think I lost you there on the 3/4 accents vs the 6/8 ones. When you think of it as you described and consider a 3/4 measure and a 6/8 measure will both take the same length of time to complete, then think of the fact that just because you are in 3/4 doesn't mean you can't have 8th note accents, it's difficult to tell the two apart, functionally.

                      Clearly, the two are written to have two different feels, but mixing them up in a song in either direction works just dandy.
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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Blades View Post
                        Phil,

                        I think I lost you there on the 3/4 accents vs the 6/8 ones. When you think of it as you described and consider a 3/4 measure and a 6/8 measure will both take the same length of time to complete, then think of the fact that just because you are in 3/4 doesn't mean you can't have 8th note accents, it's difficult to tell the two apart, functionally.

                        Clearly, the two are written to have two different feels, but mixing them up in a song in either direction works just dandy.
                        Yes, 3/4 time can have 8th note accents, but it doesn't instinctively want them. That's the disctinction. If I look at a 3/4 time score, I'll assume no accents are on the 8ths unless they're otherwise noted.

                        That is -- the undertow, or general pulse/feel/groove is sitting right on top of the quarters and that's where I'll try to feel them unless I'm specifically instructed otherwise.

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                        • #13
                          See, me writing a lot of my stuff based on odd time signatures and stuff I don't really even count besides just having a click/metronome behind it I do weird accents all the time. Especially if a guitarist is just doing up and down arpeggios/sweeps and stuff I'll accent in weird spaces to give me that more progressive/technical feel.

                          Mainly as long as you have the general concept you can figure most anything out. For example, "awaken the abyss" one of the songs in my old band (www.myspace.com/ashesofatrocity) the beginning goes "1 2 1 2 1 2 123 1 2 1 2 123 1 2 1 2 1 2 123 123 123 123 then the second time it has 5 123's on the end, I don't even bother trying to write it out, I just count it as it is for it's individual hits and keep a solid metronome underneath it. We did a lot of stuff on the "&'s" vs. on the solid down beat.

                          You can calculate/play anything as long as it fits the song. Like 21/4 or whatnot can be written/played in a lot of ways. it could be 4, 4, 4, 5 or any combination of that, or 3, 3, 4, 3, 3, 5 or any combination of that. Or just straight count it all 21 beats. Where you put the accents it's more prominent of whether it seems calculated into those "mini measures" of that whole 21/4 or whether you throw in weird/offtime accents in random spots but still count it to yourself is what really brings out those extreme odd time sig's.
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                          • #14
                            Thanks guys this have been very illustrative. I feel like I do understand now how the puzzle works, I am still not able to put the pieces together in most of the songs but I'm confident the guidelines work and my inability is more due to my lack of experience in getting the feel of complex pieces.

                            Paraphrasing what Adam and Phil have said about the bottom number of the time signature: The accents are a good guy to figure out which type of note is intended to be counted. So first, figure out the "motto(s)" of the song and meausre its duration based on the feel ("Easy" just count at the speed your body perceive up to the ending of the motto), then in order to determine what notes should be counted just listen for the accents and do any necessary correction to the upper number. For instance if you originally counted 10 but you notice that accents fall on 4 it is possible that you have clicked in with the 8th note feel and therefore the upper number is 5 rather than 10.

                            Cheers
                            Last edited by Synkopat; 01-20-09, 03:19 PM.

                            ------------------------------------------------
                            Roland TD6-KW+VEX's

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