“In the Green Garden a Bird Was Singing”
(“У зялёному саду пташечкай пропела”)
Russian Traditional Folk Song

This old Russian folk song tells a touching story about a poor, young orphan girl lamenting over her own misfortunes as it reveals a life in poverty of lower class youth. A life of hardships, desperation and no prospects in life.

As much as the story itself gives this song a delicate, fragile tone, the circumstances and facts about its discovery and origin are equally astonishing.

This song has been recorded by the famed Russian folk singer Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva (1922-2002).

Russian Folk Singer Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva (1922-2002)







(photo from: www.culture.pskov.ru)

Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva (Ольга Федосеевна Сергеева) was born on September 27, 1922 in a remote village of Perelazy in Pskov region in Northwest Russia (Деревня Перелазы, Усвятский район, Псковская область, Россия). In fact, the village was so small that it didn’t even have its own church. Moreover, even to this day it has not been marked on Google Maps and it can be located only using the geographic coordinates (55°51’38.9″N 30°58’02.9″E).

Olga Sergeeva was born into a poor peasant family and as a young girl she worked alongside her mother on the farm. She would listen to the women singing the traditional songs while performing various seasonal field works. She was so fascinated with these songs that she would often sneak up to listen to her neighbor’s singing until she eventually memorized all the songs.

She had married in 1947 and gave birth to four children. Her simple and otherwise ordinary life in a remote village was shattered abruptly when a tragic event struck her family. The death of her daughter left Olga completely crushed with grief, so much that for the next ten years she had remained speechless and had not uttered a single word.

After years of silent solitude she suddenly began to sing – as if all the folk songs from her youth, mixed with the sadness she kept in her heart, pushed their way out to a final liberation. Years of grief and sadness gave birth to an authentic voice and the songs kept flowing as an endless river. The ancient songs in a variety of styles, that have been passed down to her through generations and with many of them nearly forgotten, suddenly became revived through her fragile, mellow voice. An honest, authentic voice, reserved and yet emotional, that was said to have been able to move people to tears.

As the word of this extraordinary folk singer spread, Olga Sergeeva came into prominence in the 1980s when the famed Russian film director, and one of the greatest directors of the 20th century cinema, Andrei Tarkovsky (1932 – 1986) discovered her and featured some of her recordings in his 1983 film “Nostalgia” – including the song “Kumushki” and her imitations of wedding crying and a sound of a violin folk song. To Tarkovsky, Olga Sergeeva represented the ultimate symbol of Russia.

Here’s an excerpt from Tarkovsky’s masterpiece “Nostalgia” featuring the song “Kumushki” and O. F. Sergeeva:


Many of her performances have been recorded in her later years, over the course of about ten years. During this time several ethnomusicologists and folk music researchers (including from St. Petersburg, Moscow, Moldova and France) worked with Olga on recording, transcribing and writing down her songs in a variety of styles that she preformed in. She had been invited to perform as a solo vocalist for Ethnographic Concerts at the famed House of Composers Concert Hall in St. Petersburg and also performed for a live broadcast on the Leningrad Radio Station as well as at various folklore conferences. She had spent a couple of summers at home of the folk singer Evegenia Smolyaninova who worked on adopting her repertoire and style of singing. Some of Olga Sergeeva’s recordings have been released on the Melodiya record label (http://melody.su/en/), a major recording company in the former USSR. Two documentary films about her life and singing talent were produced by the Pskov Television, and in 2003 the Lenfilm Studio released an art film titled “Babusya” , directed by L. A. Bobrova, which included a couple of her recordings, one of them being “In the Green Garden a Bird Was Singing”.

Most of Olga Sergeeva’s recordings are currently available on CDs.

A 2-CD album with field recordings, available on Amazon.com:

Olga Sergeeva – Music of the Russian Land of Lakes (The Field Recordings)”
“Ольга Сергеева – Музыка Русского Поозерья (Полевые записи)”
(“In the Green Garden a Bird Was Singing” is a track No. 1 on the second CD)

Another CD album with studio recordings, available on Amazon.com:

Olga Sergeeva – Music of the Russian Land of Lakes (The Studio Recordings)”
Ольга Сергеева – Музыка Русского Поозерья (Студийные записи)

One of the documentary films about Russian folk singers and musicians, titled “Farewell to Mekhov” (“Прощание с Меховым”), features the footage of Olga singing at her home in the Perelazy village:

(narration and subtitles in German; Olga Sergeeva’s part starts st 25:41)

In 2004, on the second anniversary of Olga Sergeeva’s passing away, a folklore festival was organized in the district center of Usvyata. Named after Olga Sergeeva, the folk festival was established as an annual event in 2006 and it features folklore ensembles and singers from various regions of Russia.

In 2005, the album “Traditional Music of the Usvyatsky District of the Pskov Region” was released.

O. F. Sergeeva at her home in the village of Perelazy
(O. F. Sergeeva at her home in the village of Perelazy. Picture captured from the film “Farewell to Mekhov”)

Babushka* Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva passed away on December 8, 2002 at the age of 80 years old. Thanks to her, more than 300 ancient Russian folk songs have been saved from oblivion and preserved for future generations.

(* Babushka means grandmother. In Russian culture grandmothers play a significant role in their families and the word babushka also denotes any elderly woman with the implied meaning of a respected elder. More detailed definition of babushkas at: http://russiapedia.rt.com/of-russian-origin/babushka/ )

Olga Sergeeva was praised for her authentic folk singing style and particularly for the micro variations in her singing, about which she remarked once: “Every song has hundred changes”. She would envelop the simple melodic lines with her subtle but intricate variations and a melismatic ornamentation, disguising them under this colorful veil.

Her style is natural, plain and emotionally reserved, and at times her singing is so subdued as if she is simply humming to herself while performing some chores or while working on a farm.


In the Green Garden A Bird Was Singing”

This song is a witness to the hardships of lower class youth, a dull reality of living in poverty and life without any hope for a better future.

The melodic content is quite simple as it consists of only two alternating lines, with each melodic line divided in two short 2-bar phrases. This simplicity creates a monotonous flow which supports the lyrical content and reinforces the sad and heavy tone of the song. This song could have easily been labeled as a pessimistic lament, however the last few verses are offering a ray of hope and are showing the girl’s strong faith and spirit, in spite of all the hardships and discouragements. O.F. Sergeeva’s subtle variations in phrasing embody this persistence and a feeling of hope.







The lyrics are organized in such a way that each line of the text is being repeated, with three exceptions including the very first and last lines. This allows for each line of lyrics to be sung over both of the two alternating melodic lines – first time over the “closing” melodic line (2) and then repeated over the “opening” melodic line (1). This results in the suspended, delayed unfolding of the story, which creates tension and increases the anticipation of the following lines.

Interestingly, the third exception to this uniform repeating pattern involves the only two lines in which the girl describes the happy, jolly moments while she is dancing in a circle dance. Apparently, the intention of this abatement of the happy moments is to underline their short-lived effects and sporadic occurrences.

In the Green Garden a Bird Was Singing”

У зялёному саду пташечкай пропела
Йетый пташки есть гняздо, есть у ней и дети
Йетый пташки есть гняздо, есть у ней и дети
А у мене у сироты нет никого на свети

А у мене у сироты нет никого на свети
Ночь кочала я детей, день коров доила
Ночь кочала я детей, день коров доила
Подоивши да я коров в карагод ходила

В карагоде я была веселай гуляла
Хорошим я хороша ой плоха ядета
Хорошим я хороша ой плоха ядета
Никто замуж не бярет и мене за это

Никто замуж не бярет и мене за это
Пойду с горя в монастырь Богу помолюся
Пойду с горя в монастырь Богу помолюся
Перед иконаю святый слезами зальюся

Перед иконаю святый слезами зальюся
Ни пошлёт ли мне Господь той доли счастливый?
Ни пошлёт ли мне Господь той доли счастливый?
Ни возьмет ли меня замуж молодец красивый?

English translation:

In the green garden a birdie was singing,
This birdie has a nest, and it has chicks,
This birdie has a nest, and it has chicks,
And I’m an orphan and I don’t have anyone.

And I’m an orphan and I don’t have anyone.
At night I was rocking a cradle and milking a cow in the afternoon,
At night I was rocking a cradle and milking a cow in the afternoon,
After milking, I was dancing in khorovod*

I was jolly dancing in khorovod*,
I’m good-looking, but bad-dressed,
I’m good-looking, but bad-dressed,
No one would marry me because of that.

No one would marry me because of that,
So I will go to monastery with grief, I will pray to God.
I will go to monastery with grief, I will pray to God,
I will break into tears before the saint’s icon.

I will break into tears before the saint’s icon,
Maybe God will send me someone, And I will be happy?
Maybe God will send me someone, And I will be happy?
Maybe a handsome young man will marry me?

* “Khorovod” – a combined circle dance and chorus singing.


In the Green Garden a Bird Was Singing” by Olga Fedoseevna Sergeeva
(“У зелёном у саду пташечка пропела” – Ольга Федосеевна Сергеева)

A New Take At the Old Tradition

After nearly a century of focusing on new inventions and experimentation in music, the young generations of musicians and artists all around the world are starting to recognize the beauty and value of traditional music and are honoring it in their own unique ways by reinventing, reviving and adapting the folk songs to the modern musical trends.

One such example from Russia is a folk-song singer Pelageya:

(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons. Source link here)


Pelageya and her band are known for their rock music arrangements of traditional folk songs from Russia as well as other nations, and her version of “In the Green Garden A Birdie Was Singing” re-titled simply as “Birdie” (“Пташечка”) is a prime example of a perfect marriage between the “Old School” songs and a “New School” musicians.

Birdie” by Pelageya (“Пташечка” – Пелагея) – Live recording:

The following video features Pelageya’s studio edition of the same song with an amazing animation film by the Russian animator and animation director and Oscar Academy Award winner Aleksandr Petrov.

Birdie” by Pelagea (“Пташечка” – Пелагея)Studio recording:


– – – – – – –

My solo piano arrangement of this folk song, simply titled “In the Green Garden” appears as the opening track on my second solo piano album “Under the Sacred Tree” – released in 2017 and available at my online music store here!

The alternate version of “In the Green Garden” has been released in 2018 on the album Under the Sacred Tree [432 Hz Edition]” with all tracks tuned to 432 Hertz instead of the standard 440 Hz tuning. The album is available at my online store at:


For the musically inclined and the piano players interested in learning to play this arrangement I would recommend the sheet music for this song which is included in my Under the Sacred Tree SONGBOOK”:

Copyright 2019 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.


“Oj golube, moj golube”
Serbian Traditional Folk Song

At the first hearing “Oj golube, moj golube” (“Oh, pigeon, my pigeon” or “Ој, голубе, мој голубе”) might easily leave the listener with an impression of a beautiful, yet plain folk song. After all, its story involves some of the usual narrative elements such as birds, berries, forest and flowers. After a few more turns, an unsuspecting ear would eventually get familiar with the melody, pretty soon it would grow to like the entire song and finally memorize the lyrics. This sequence of events would describe a common “path of discovery” for most listeners, with a rewarding outcome indeed – a lovely, familiar song that will always bring pleasant feelings at every hearing and even lead them into singing along. Just like a treasured seashell would always bring back the memory of that special moment at the beach – a discovery of a great find.

Years might pass, but after numerous listenings one suddenly realizes that the seashell is still closed and the natural curiosity kicks in with the looming question: what is inside?

The surface is scratched and, when the shell opens, the hidden layers unfold to reveal an eye-opening story, with its true meaning finally unveiled. All the obvious elements magically transform into their true forms and the song itself turns into a glorious pearl.

This song is regarded as one of the most beautiful as well as the most erotic of all Serbian traditional folk songs. It belongs to the collection of traditional songs from the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija and it is a wedding song that would have been traditionally sung by the young women to the newlyweds on the day of their wedding. Its place of origin is the ancient city of Prizren (Призрен) – the capital city of several Serbian medieval tsars and kings, that was also mentioned in other epic poems as “Serbian Constantinople” (“Српски Цариград”). According to some sources, this was the favorite song of the Tsar Stefan Urosh IV Dushan, The Mighty (~1308 – 1355), the Emperor of the Serbs, Greeks and Bulgarians. It is also considered as one of the oldest known Serbian folk songs, and if the story about the Emperor Dushan is true, then it would place its time of origin in no later than the XIII or early XIV century.

In the medieval times a social order was based on deep religious beliefs, strong traditions and the conservative and puritan moral codes – much in contrast with science-driven and often pragmatic modern human societies. In such social circumstances openly showing the feelings of love and affection was not accepted and expressing such feelings to the loved one required some clever ways. This song is a perfect example for enclosing such hidden message with a layer of unsuspecting, simple folk narrative.

Original song lyrics in Serbian Cyrillic alphabet as performed by the folk singer Mara Djordjevic (1916-2003) praised for her characteristic, yet authentic vocal style:

Ој, голубе, мој голубе,
Ој, голубе, мој голубе,
Не падај ми на малине,
Горо зелена,
Не падај ми на малине,
Ружо румена.

Кад малине зреле буду,
Кад малине зреле буду,
И саме ће опадати,
Горо зелена,
И саме ће опадати,
Ружо румена.

Како слузе девојачке,
Како слузе девојачке,
Девојачке и момачке,
Горо зелена.
Девојачке и момачке,
Ружо румена.

My English translation:

Oh, pigeon, my pigeon,
Oh, pigeon, my pigeon,
Don’t fall on my raspberries,
Green forest,
Don’t fall on my raspberries,
Red rose.

When (the) raspberries become ripe,
When (the) raspberries become ripe,
They will fall by themselves,
Green forest,
They will fall by themselves,
Red rose.

Like the young girls’ tears,
Like the young girls’ tears,
Young girls’ and young lads’,
Green forest,
Young girls’ and young lads’,
Red rose.

Oj golube, moj golube” as performed by Mara Djordjevic, recorded in the 1950s and released in 2008 (for PGP-RTS record label) on the CD album “Mara Djordjevic – Songs from Kosovo and Metohija” featuring collection of her recordings of traditional folk songs from the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija:


An interesting detail in these lyrics is the spelling and pronunciation of the words како слузе” (or kako sluze”) which means “like tears”. “Sluze” is an archaic form, specific to the Serbian dialect as spoken in the province of Kosovo and Metohija. The sound “l” in this word became silent and eventually excluded altogether from the modern spelling and pronunciation of this word – “сузе” or “suze”. The same goes for the word “kako” which is pronounced in the modern language as “kao” where the second “k” became silent, although – in contrast to the word “sluze”, in some rare situation this word is still used in its archaic form.

The pigeon bird in this song represents a young man and the raspberries represent girl’s bust. While these metaphoric references become obvious with analyzing the song, some other are easily overlooked and so far I haven’t came across their explanation in other texts about this song. Namely, the “green forest” and the “red rose”. In this context the green color surely refers to the innocence and inexperience of youth. Finally, “green” coupled with “forest” brings to mind a picture of a lush, springtime woods and is thus a perfect depiction of a blooming youth.

The meaning of “rose” as an ultimate symbol of beauty and love is amplified by the color “red” signifying the infatuation, blushing and lovers’ excitement.

While the lyrics above could be considered the original version several other versions exist with one of them performed by the folk singer Vasilija Radojcic (1936-2011):


Lyrics as performed by the folk music singer Vasilija Radojcic:

Ој, голубе, мој голубе,
Ој, голубе, мој голубе,
Не падај ми на малине,
Горо зелена,
Малине су још зелене,
Туго голема.

Кад малине зреле буду,
Кад малине зреле буду,
И саме ће опадати,
Горо зелена,
И саме ће опадати,
Туго голема.

Као сузе девојачке,
Као сузе девојачке,
Девојачке и момачке,
Горо зелена.
Девојачке и момачке,
Туго голема.

The bold text in the lyrics above indicates the differences and deviations from the previous version:

– the new line “Малине су још зелене” means “the raspberries are still green” and with it a woman in return acknowledges her feelings along with the fact that their mutual feelings cannot be openly expressed;

– while the last lines of each verse in the previous lyrics read: “Red rose” (“Ружо румена”) here we have Great sadness” (“Туго голема”). Obviously, the woman here refers to her chosen lover as “her own sadness” and this apparently underscores both lovers’ longing for each other and great sadness they feel for not being able to express their feelings;

– this version is newer than the previous one as I believe that this recording was made at least a couple of decades later and at the time when commercial aspects of music began to play a more important role than before. Evidently, the archaic forms of some of the words, as explained above, have disappeared in order to make the song sound more in line with the modern language and to be accessible to a wider audience. This is a prime example of how the music and lyrics change over time and adapt to the contemporary language and performing styles.

Another version was recorded by the famed folk singer Ksenija Cicvaric (1929–1997):


In her version, in addition to “Горо зелена” the woman also refers to her lover as “Водо студена” which means fresh water” and she also sings in the specific dialect of Serbian language as spoken in the Montenegro region, as evident in this line:

Као сузе ђевојачке”

instead of:

“Као сузе девојачке”.


Another versions of the lyrics include an additional verse placed after the first verse:

Малине су још зелене,
Малине су још зелене,
Још те нису за зобање,
Горо зелена,
Још те нису за зобање,
Ружо румена.

My English translation:

Raspberries are still green
Raspberries are still green,
They are not for eating yet,
Green forest,
They are not for eating yet,
Red rose.


Another more recent version was recorded by the The Teofilovic Brothers (“Теофиловићи”) on their CD album “Теофиловићи – Сабазорски ветрови” (“The Teofilovic Brothers – Winds of Dawn”) released in 2001 in Banja Luka, Republika Srpska:


Their “a cappella” performance is particularly interesting because they have departed from the original melody and metric sequence and have transformed the song into an entirely different, unique folk vocal style.

A version of the song lyrics as performed by Теофиловићи:

Ој, голубе, мој голубе,
Не падај ми на малине.
Малине су још зелене,
Јоште нису за зобање.

Када малине зреле буду,
И саме ће опадати.
Ја ћу ти их накупити,
Тебе младог нахранити.

My English translation:

Oh, pigeon, my pigeon
Don’t fall on my raspberries,
Raspberries are still green
They are not for eating yet
When (the) raspberries become ripe,
They will fall by themselves,
I will pick them
And feed you (young)

With all these different versions and performing styles, as well as many others not included in this essay, we can see how one particular song not just evolves over time but also adapts easily to regional performing styles and dialects.

Eventually, the story of this song is about to become even more complicated as, after a more extensive research, the “original” text is uncovered, only to reveal that the song lyrics are apparently just variations of a short excerpt from a much larger folk poem. The complete text has been published in 1869 in the book titled Songs and customs of the Serbian people” (“Песме и обичаи укупног народа Србског”) by the XIX century historian, lawyer and writer Milos S. Milojevic (Милош С. Милојевић, 1840-1897).

Milojevic has been systematically ignored and his works purposely overlooked and excluded from scientific literature by the XX century communist regime in the former Yugoslavia, as his findings and views of the historic events didn’t fit in the communist totalitarian agenda. Unfortunately, this trend continued to this day as the quazy-democratic, crypto-communist intellectuals are, at the time of this writing, still holding a majority of key academic positions and in turn protecting their obsolete, scientifically invalidated and discarded views of history and archaeology.

Milojevic has embarked on a nearly impossible task of collecting the folk songs from all the lands where Serbian people lived. As he explained in the foreword to his book, he had sent more than 800 requests to teachers and other volunteers from various regions of the Balkan lands to collect the songs. However, due to many obstacles, only a handful of replies with materials were returned. Most of the materials that he had received were accompanied with notes and comments by the song collectors, some of which will prove to be crucial for this essay.

The song collectors claimed that Milojevic’s idea was an almost futile effort and that, at best, they were able to record only a tiny fraction of all the folk songs. Namely, the most common complaint was that they had a very hard time trying to persuade the local women to sing. The main reason being that most of the songs were passed on by the local women and, because of the very strict and puritan moral codes of the day, they were extremely shy, ashamed and not willing to sing any of the songs in public or in front of other men, let alone sign to a stranger who would write the songs down. Luckily, all the efforts eventually paid off as several hundred folk songs have been preserved in his book.

The song collectors’ comments prompted me to conclude that the folk song we know today as “Oj golube, moj golube” is just an adaptation – a short, edited (or rather censored) version suitable for public performance, devoid of any direct erotic references. According to some of the song collectors’ comments any lines such as “a girl loves a guy” or “a guy loves a girl” were quickly skipped and only mentioned if overlooked by the singer. Undoubtedly, the XIX century definitions of “erotic” and “explicit” stand in stark contrast to today’s understanding of these terms.

The complete lyrics, as recorded in 1869 by Milos S. Milojevic, were sung by an unnamed local woman from the Prizren region, and their title was not specified indicating that the current song title is possibly a relatively recent designation. This song was a part of the so called “sitting songs” (“пијесме сијеђељачке”) which means that they were sung at smaller gatherings at which everybody was sitting and not at the larger celebrations which involved dancing (such as the traditional “kolo” dancing etc).

I have highlighted only the verses which appear to be the source for the “Oj golube, moj golube” song:

О језијеро сво зелијено,
Наоколо изкићено,
По сриједи позлаћено.
По позлати коло игра
Само коло ђевојачко.
Виш’ кола се соко вија.
Ђевојке га себи маме.
Што га оне себи маме,
То се соко више вија
И тада јим проговара:
Ој голубе мој голубе!
Кад малине зријеле буду
И саме ће опадати;
Као сузе ђевојачке,
Прву вечер у душеку,
На свилијену јаглучићу
На јастуку под јорганом.
Када но ми пиле моје
Њијежне груди непокрију.
Комарник је ваша коса
Да не падне на нас роса
На соколе тиће оштрије.”
Ђевојке му говориле:
“Наш соколе сиво перје
Наш соколе оштра тицо!
Јаријебицо ластовицо
Ластавицо витка тицо!
Када грожђе зpијело буде
И само ће опадати;
Као клијетве у јунака
Првог дана по састанку
Када виђу бијеле цуре
Бијеле цуре не удате
И ђевојке њевијенчате.
И кад буду прво вече
Прво вече по вијенчању
У мијеку душечићу
На свиљену јаглучићу
Јаглучићу јастучићу.
Бијелих руку разширијених.
Комарник је ваша коса
Да не падне на нас роса.”

In this poem the setting is a little bit different in that a group of girls is dancing a traditional “kolo” dance at a lake, while a falcon is circling above them. The girls are luring the falcon towards themselves with their dance, but the harder they try, the higher the falcon flies. In the midst of their competition, the falcon and the girls proceed to exchange their verses, which at that point obviously refer to the first night after the wedding.

Indeed, these complete song lyrics include some slight erotic references that would be absolutely unacceptable for public performing in the old times, especially in the rural areas. This explains why the women were unwilling to sing them openly, other than between themselves. However, compared to today’s explicit poetry, this song probably wouldn’t require any parental guiding or rating.

This only leaves us wondering about how many other folk songs around the world have their secret original editions.

– – – – – – –

In line with my goal of testing the adaptability of folk songs, I have tweaked this one quite a bit and placed it in an unusual musical context, with somewhat modified melody and ornamentation, along with extended and entirely new sections.

This song’s original metric sequence is very interesting as it is based on a mixed meter – it features a combination of several even and odd meters: 2/4, 3/4 and 5/8.

Here’s the original metric sequence:

||: 3/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 3/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 5/8 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 5/8 | 2/4 :||

and my extended metric sequence:

|| 3/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 3/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 5/8 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 2/4 | 5/8 | 2/4 | 5/8 | 2/4 ||

My solo piano version has been released on my second album “Under the Sacred Tree” which is available at my online store at:

Oj golube, moj golube” – solo piano by Koshanin:

For the “432 Hz” enthusiasts, I have released an alternate edition album Under the Sacred Tree [432 Hz Edition]” with all tracks tuned to 432 Hertz instead of the standard 440 Hz tuning. This edition is available at my online store at:

For the musically inclined and the piano players interested in learning to play this arrangement I would recommend the sheet music for this song which is included in my Under the Sacred Tree SONGBOOK”:


Copyright 2019 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.


“Ajde Jano”
Serbian Traditional Folk Song

“Ajde Jano” is one of the most popular and beloved Serbian traditional folk songs. While its author and the exact time of its origin are not known, it is believed by some to have been created in the early 1900s, although according to other sources this was originally an older women’s wedding dance and song that originated at the town of Kosovska Mitrovica in the Serbian province of Kosovo i Metohija. Compared to many other Serbian traditional folk songs “Ajde Jano” might not be a very old song but it had nonetheless gained an enormous popularity and has become a staple song at various public events and gatherings such as traditional celebrations, weddings, folk music festivals etc.

The striking beauty of its melody and a characteristic sound of this song prompted numerous musicians and artists from all over the world to perform it live or to record their own arrangements. Even a simple search for “Ajde Jano” on YouTube would return a long list with dozens of different versions, revealing this song’s enormous potential for successful integration into different musical styles and situations. I would highlight just some interesting arrangements by various international artists:

  • Kroke Band, a Polish world music instrumental ensemble, recorded their own version of Ajde Jano on their album “Trio” in 1996
  • American world music recording artist Talitha MacKenzie recorded her own version of Ajde Jano on her album “Spiorad” released in 1996
  • English violinist Nigel Kennedy with the Kroke Band and Egyptian-British singer Natacha Atlas released Ajde Jano on the album “East Meets East” in 2003
  • Finnish accordionist Teija Niku and Grupa Balkan recorded Ajde Jano on her album “Finsko Pajdusko” in 2011
  • Italian jazz/world music musician Daniele Sepe released Ajde Jano on his album “Canzoniere Illustrato” in 2012
  • Polish singer Kayah released Ajde Jano on her album “Transoriental Orchestra” in 2013
  • Japanese band Japalkan recorded and performed their version of Ajde Jano on the “Küstendorf Film and Music Festival” in 2018

In the recent years a heated debate has developed concerning the song lyrics. While some alternate versions of the lyrics have been introduced recently, this debate centers on the question of authenticity of the most popular version (as shown below) and whether this is indeed the original text or rather a purposely altered version.

The following are these controversial lyrics that have been commonly accepted as a “default” version:


In Serbian Cyrillic alphabet:

‘Ајде Јано коло да играмо!
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коло да играмо,
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коло да играмо!

‘Ајде Јано коња да продамо!
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коња да продамо,
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коња да продамо!

Да продамо, само да играмо!
Да продамо, Јано душо, само да играмо,
Да продамо, Јано душо, само да играмо!

‘Ајде Јано кућу да продамо!
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, кућу да продамо,
‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, кућу да продамо!

Да продамо само да играмо!
Да продамо, Јано душо, само да играмо,
Да продамо, Јано душо, само да играмо!


English translation:

C’mon Jana, let’s dance the kolo!
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s dance the kolo,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s dance the kolo!

C’mon Jana, let’s sell the horse!
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the horse,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the horse!

For to sell it, just to dance!
For to sell it, Jana honey, just to dance,
For to sell it, Jana honey, just to dance!

C’mon Jana, let’s sell the house!
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the house,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the house!

For to sell it, just to dance!
For to sell it, Jana honey, just to dance,
For to sell it, Jana honey, just to dance!

– – – – – – –

The famous Serbian folk music singer Mara Djordjevich (1916-2003) praised for her characteristic, yet authentic vocal style, recorded her lovely rendition of “Ajde Jano” which was released in 1956 as a ‘Side B’ song on a 78RPM SP record for the Jugoton record label. The CD album “Mara Djordjevic – Songs from Kosovo and Metohija” featuring collection of her recordings of traditional folk songs from the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija has been posthumously released in 2008 for PGP-RTS record label.

Ajde Jano” by Mara Djordjevic:


Another beautiful example for a traditional performance is a version recorded by a famous Serbian folk music singer Vasilija Radojchich (1936-2011).

Ajde Jano” by Vasilija Radojchich:

In January 2013, a modern arrangement of “Ajde Jano” has been performed live at the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York City by the Belgrade, Serbia based mixed choir Viva Vox.

Ajde Jano” by Viva Vox at UN General Assembly Hall:

– – – – – – –

While the only person explicitly mentioned in the text is a woman named Jana (pronounced as: YAN-nah) the song actually centers on the person who is obviously leading the story. This unnamed man is determined to dance with Jana at any price and he is persistently inviting her to dance with him.

His affection becomes obvious just by looking at his offerings to Jana in return for a dance: a horse and a house! Anyone willing to part with two of the most valuable possessions in return for a dance or two would be considered out of their mind even in modern times and especially in the times this song was created in. Having this is mind, we can suspect that his affection towards Jana is not a consequence of a deep and pure love but rather of utter recklessness.

An easily overlooked fact in the text reveals that both the house and the horse are their common property, as the man repeatedly exclaims:


‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коња да продамо!

C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the horse!


‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, кућу да продамо!

C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the horse!

This clue reveals more details about their relationship. Since they share the ownership of both the horse and a house, it looks like they are a married couple that lives together.

Another concealed clue is the type of dance – Kolo. Kolo is a traditional circle-dance that involves several dancers. (Read more about “kolo” dance in my essay: Vodichanka kolo” – coming soon!)

This detail points to the wider context of this song. Kolo dance is an inseparable part of any traditional celebration or gathering, especially in the rural settings. Typically, these events include weddings, various “rites of passage” celebrations, religious holidays, sowings, harvests and many other traditional activities and occasions. At such large celebrations kolo dance often involves dozens of dancers, as it is customary for all attendees to join the dance.

Some contemporary examples include traditional annual fairgrounds festivals and folk music festivals such as the famed “Shabacki vashar” (City of Shabac Fairgrounds Festival – “Шабачки вашар”) or the world famous annual trumpet music festival Gucha Festival (“Гуча фестивал”) and many others.

– – – – – – –

While not related to this song, it’s worth mentioning that the most common traditional celebration, unique to Serbian people, is Slava (pronounced as: “Slah-vah” – in Serbian Cyrillic alphabet: “Слава”). It is a religious, ritual glorification of a family’s patron saint day. “Slava” doesn’t involve any dancing and it is not a large celebration but rather a private event for family members, relatives and close friends. Being a closed, private celebration, attendance at “Slava” feast for anyone other than the family members requires a special invitation, and being invited to one is a sign of deep respect and close friendship to the family.

Serbian writer Stevan Sremac (1855-1906) masterfully depicted one such typical “Slava feast” in his famous novel “Ivkova Slava” or “Ivko’s Feast” (in Serbian: “Ивкова слава”). The plot centers around a seemingly never-ending feast taking place over the course of three days, in the city of Nish (in Serbian: “Ниш”), near the end of the XIX century. A comedy movie Ivko’s Feast based on the novel was released in 2005.

– – – – – – –

As expected and so characteristic for the colorful and expressive people in the Helm region (also known as “Balkan peninsula”), such celebrations include loud music, dancing, singing, often with demonstrative gun and rifle firings, and above all eating and drinking or rather overeating and excessive drinking! Throwing an extravagant feast for those special occasions is a matter of prestige and a display of pride and social status. Most often such celebrations would start early in the day and extend throughout the night, while in some extreme but not too uncommon situations they would extend well into the next day and sometimes run continuously for several days.

The key ingredient here is the excess in eating and especially in drinking! Without any justifying or criticizing of these activities, it is obvious that more often than not participants become irresponsible or even incapacitated.

It is important to note here that in the old times only the privileged upper class citizens would have been able to afford such extravagant celebrations while the common people and peasants struggled in relative poverty.

If we suppose that the lyrics, as shown above, are indeed the original text for this song I could only argue that indeed the most likely context for this song is one of such extended celebrations in which participants desperately want to keep dancing and celebrating while been incapacitated due to the excess food and alcohol consumption. This would explain the insane decision making by our unnamed lead player.

However, we would have a hard time trying to find a single equivalent for such direct suggestive recklessness and a praise of careless irresponsibility in any other Serbian traditional folk song lyrics. While some folk songs treat certain situations around mischievous behavior, carelessness, laziness etc., a highly suggestive message and a direct praise implied in this song’s lyrics seem curiously inappropriate for the social context at the time of this song’s creation, even if it was created as recently as in the early XX Century. It is not very likely that a song with such lyrics would be accepted for a wide public use in a patriarchal and relatively conservative society that Serbia represented in the early XX Century, let alone any earlier period.

Some recent versions have been created for the lyrics, including the ones written by the famous Serbian musician Asim Sarvan, recorded under the title “Ајде Јано, кућу да не дамо” (“C’mon Jana, let’s not give the house”), recorded and released in 2008.

Sarvan’s lyrics are indeed consistent with the folk music context, and furthermore, he has introduced some new elements giving the lyrics a fresh, yet traditional sense:

“C’mon Jana, let’s not give the house” – by Asim Sarvan
(“Ајде Јано, кућу да не дамо” – Асим Сарван)

Ајде Јано, коло да играмо
Ајде Јано, ајде душо коло да играмо
Ајде Јано, ајде душо да се погледамо

Ајде Јано, песме да певамо
Ајде Јано, ајде душо, да их сачувамо
Ајде Јано, ајде душо благо да чувамо.

Ајде Јано, коња да седламо
Ајде Јано, ајде душо да се прошетамо
До Бистрице да идемо да се умијемо.

Ајде Јано, кућу да не дамо
Да не дамо, Јано душо, да је не продамо,
Кад продамо, Јано душо, како да играмо?
Кад продамо, Јано море, како да играмо?

Да не дамо, Јано душо, да је не продамо,
Кад продамо, Јано море, како да играмо?


Here’s my English translation:

C’mon Jana, let’s dance the kolo,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s dance the kolo,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey,
to look at each other.

C’mon Jana, let’s sing the songs,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, to save them,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s save the treasure.

C’mon Jana, let’s saddle up the horse,
C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, to take a walk,
To Bistrica river, to splash our faces.

C’mon Jana, let’s not give the house,
Not to give it, Jana honey, nor to sell it,
If we sell it, Jana honey, how can we dance?
If we sell it, Jana dear, how can we dance?

Let’s not give it, Jana honey, let’s not sell it,
If we sell it, Jana dear, how can we dance?

(Translated by Koshanin)

Ајде Јано, кућу да не дамо” by “Asim Sarvan i prijatelji”
“Ajde Jana, let’s not give the house” by Asim Sarvan and Friends, released in 2008:

Sarvan’s lyrics come as a result of a rejection by a growing number of people who are reacting negatively to the “default” lyrics for this song. A major reason for such negative sentiment to the lyrical content is its apparent contradiction and a defeatist, socially irresponsible message.

This opens the possibility that the lyrics have been intentionally changed or altered. While this idea might seem like a “conspiracy theory” many similar cases of altering or banning traditional folk song lyrics are well known. Given the brutal and totalitarian nature of the communist rulers in Yugoslavia after the Second World War and their desire to ultimately destroy local culture, tradition, religion and any national sentiment, this could very well be the case. After all, the banning of books, destruction of historic documents, abolition of freedom of speech and political and religious freedoms, mass imprisonments and executions quickly became communists’ favorite methods and are altogether well documented.


An American world music recording artist Talitha MacKenzie recorded her own version on her album “Spiorad” released in 1996 for the “Shanachie Entertainment” record label. MacKenzie wrote new lyrics, based on the original structure and introduced an anti-war context.

Ajde Jano” by Talitha MacKenzie, from the album “Spiorad” released in 1996:

The production, recording and performance are outstanding and the pacifist nature of the lyrics is surely a noble idea and a positive, encouraging direction within the larger context. On the other hand, the history of the Balkan lands, continuous fighting for a bare survival and striving for independence throughout the ages have taught the locals that arms cannot be set aside that easily.

Not unlike in the other parts of the world, the people of the Balkan lands had to constantly remain vigilant to recurring attacks and attempts to conquer their lands and freedom by foreign invaders. This goes back to the ancient times of the expanding Roman Empire, the invasions of the Avars and the Huns, to the historically recent invasions of Ottoman Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and beyond. After all, virtually all armed conflicts of the XX century in Balkan lands have been more or less induced or outright caused by the actions of powerful foreign geopolitical players. Sadly, even in our times we are witnessing similar attempts in the form of economic pressures and other modern forms of warfare.


I would propose another scenario for a new, duet version of the lyrics. Perhaps this could be a “call and response” type of song that would feature the alternating male and female sections, where Jana would reply to her man by dismissing his foolish behavior.

The man would sing the “default” part of the lyrics:

C’mon Jana, c’mon honey, let’s sell the horse/house!

In Serbian:

‘Ајде Јано, ‘ајде душо, коња/кућу да продамо!

To which the woman would reply:

No, my dear, let’s not sell the horse/house!
No, my dear, no, my soul, let’s not sell the horse/house,
No, my dear, no, my soul, let’s not sell the horse/house!

Let’s not sell it, let’s just dance!
Let’s not sell it, my honey, let’s just dance,
Let’s not sell it, c’mon honey, let’s just dance!

In Serbian:

‘Немој драги, кућу/коња да продамо!
‘Немој драги, немој душо, кућу/коња да продамо,
‘Немој драги, немој душо, кућу/коња да продамо!

Да не дамо, само да играмо!
Да не дамо, моја душо, само да играмо,
Да не дамо, ајде душо, само да играмо!

Regardless of the controversy surrounding the lyrical content, this song features some beautiful folk music motifs and it is set to a 7/8 meter – one of the most common meters in the folk music of the Balkan region. (Read more about “Odd Meters” in my 6-part essay series here)


My own solo piano version of “Ajde Jano” was released in 2011 on my first CD album “Over Seven Seas” and is available at my online music store:


For the musically inclined and the piano players interested in learning to play this arrangement I would recommend the sheet music for this song which is included in my “Over Seven Seas SONGBOOK”:



Copyright 2019 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.


“Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem”
Traditional Folk Song

“Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem” is a well known and very popular traditional folk song, admired throughout the former Yugoslavia. It is a staple song in both Macedonian and Serbian folk music repertoires. A few versions of the lyrical content exist today, with some of them involving a different text, while most versions differ only slightly, with minor variations based on the actual dialects of different regions in which the song was traditionally performed.

The lyrics for this love-themed song revolve around a field guard who is expressing his admiration for a girl named Bozhana (Божана) who is harvesting the field. The mere fact that the narrator’s role is an armed guard gives us an insight into the social circumstances of the times of this song’s origins. Due to the volatile political situation in the wider region and a generally unstable environment with a perpetual risk of sudden outbreaks of conflicts, uprisings or even wars, workers performing any activities on the farms or in the fields were commonly accompanied by the armed members of their families or village. Normally, at least one or more armed members would be tasked with safeguarding the rest of the villagers who were ploughing, planting, sowing, weeding, harvesting etc. In some regions this practice was necessary because of the constant threats of attacks by thieves, outlaws or by the hostile neighboring clans. Unfortunately, such threats and attacks are still part of daily life for Serbian people living in constant fear in the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija. If you are interested in helping to provide a humanitarian assistance to people in need please consider donating to the International Not-For-Profit Humanitarian Organization “28. Jun” which is providing humanitarian, medical and disaster relief to the Western Balkans.

The lyrics shown below are a traditional version in the distinctive southern dialect of the Serbian language, as performed in the Vranje region in Southern Serbia. A beloved Serbian folk music singer Stanisha Stoshich (Станиша Стошић, 1946-2008) immortalized this song with his soulful voice and an expressive and heartwarming performance:


“Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem” – Stanisha Stoshich:


Song lyrics in Serbian Cyrillic alphabet:

Што ми је Мерак пољак да биднем”

Што ми је мерак
пољак да биднем, мори, Божано.
Што ми је мерак
пољак да биднем, мори, Божано.

Пољак да биднем
на твоју њиву, мори, Божано.
Пољак да биднем
на твоју њиву, мори, Божано.

Ти да ми жњејеш,
ја да ти појем, мори, Божано.
Ти да ми жњејеш,
ја да ти појем, мори, Божано.

Песме да појем,
пушке да фрљам, мори, Божано.
Ем да ти појем,
пушке да фрљам, мори, Божано.



Before I get to the actual translation of the lyrics I would need to clarify the meaning of a few specific words for which the non-native speakers would have a hard time finding a translation or for which no translation is currently available in any of the online dictionaries.

The word “мерак” or “merak” (pronounced as: “meh-rakh”) is originally an Arabic word, borrowed and incorporated in Turkish language, and later introduced into Serbian, Macedonian, Bulgarian and other languages during the Ottoman Empire’s rule of the Helm lands (also known as the Balkan region). The meaning of this word is:

– satisfaction, enjoyment, good feeling; ¹
– passion, craving, wish, will for something; ¹
– melancholy as a consequence of an excessive craving, passion or longing for something. ¹
– a wish, will (for something) ²

Although the translations above describe the primary meaning and its possible variations, the majority of the native speakers feel as if English language does not have a specific term to accurately describe a deep and strong feeling which this word denotes.

The word “пољак” or “poljak” (pronounced as: “po-lyak”) is an archaic word in the Serbian language which is very rarely, if ever, used in contemporary language. Today, its homonym word “Пољак” or “Poljak” (identically spelled but capitalized) is used to describe a man of Polish descent, while its original meaning was:

– field guard ²
– farm guard or guardian

In the old times it described a person that was designated as an armed guard safeguarding the farm and the workers, usually his fellow villagers.

The word “мори” or “mori” (pronounced as: “moh-ree”), also often written as “море” or “more” (pronounced as: “moh-reh”) and not to be confused with its homonym meaning “sea”, is frequently used in contemporary communication. Although virtually all native speakers are using this word on a daily basis, most of them wouldn’t be able to explain its exact meaning. Indeed, this word is not a specific term but rather an exclamation, with an aim of either an encouragement or a rebuke.² Since I couldn’t find a perfectly fitting translation for the given context, I just used a generic exclamation “oh” in its place.

Another word that needs an explanation is “фрљам” or “frljam” (pronounced as: “fr-lyam”) which appears in the last verse. The infinitive form of this verb is “фрљати” or “frljati” which means:

– to throw something from afar; ¹
– to throw; ²
– to throw (something at somebody), to shoot; ³

While the primary meaning of this word is “to throw (something)” – obviously, in this situation, given the firearm involved in the story, its less common meaning “to shoot” or “to fire (a rifle etc.)” would be more appropriate.

Another peculiar word in the last verse is “ем” or “em” (pronounced as a letter “M” or hem”).

This word is of Persian (Farsi) language origin ¹, it found its way to Serbian via the Turkish language and it is widely used in colloquial communication. It is a conjunction used as a function word to indicate connection or addition especially of items within the same class or type…” 4 and its meaning is:

– and, besides; ¹
– (as a connector) and … and ²

Disclaimer: I am by no means a professional translator and this is simply my attempt to create a simple translation into English language, only for the purpose of making this song somewhat more accessible to the non-native listeners and to help them understand the general context and the broad meaning of the lyrics.

“Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem” – English translation by Koshanin:


How I’d love to be a guardian”

How I would love
to be a guardian, oh, Bozhana.
How I would love
to be a guardian, oh, Bozhana

To be a guardian
of your field, oh, Bozhana.
To be a guardian
of your field, oh, Bozhana.

For you to harvest for me,
for me to sing to you, oh, Bozhana.
For you to harvest for me,
for me to sing to you, oh, Bozhana.

To sing the songs,
to fire the rifle, oh, Bozhana.
And songs to sing,
rifles to fire, oh, Bozhana.

It is quite obvious from the explanations above that the Turkish language had a tremendous impact on local languages, including Bulgarian, Greek, Macedonian, Serbian and others. While the several centuries long rule of the invading Ottoman Empire is largely and rightfully regarded by locals as oppressive, negative and regressive, a large body of Turkish words and expressions still remained in use to this day. However, in the last few decades we are witnessing a sharp decline in usage of these borrowed words, partly due to the natural reintroduction of the local words and partly due to the enormous global influence of the English language, with its many modern or previously nonexistent terms. A large portion of these new additions to the local languages relate to modern technologies (such as computers, electronics etc), however a vast number of foreign words is unreasonably replacing the existing local words of identical meaning. This is definitely not an encouraging trend and according to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) there are currently several hundred endangered and nearly extinct languages around the world today. If we add to this the problem of endangered animal, plant and especially the marine life species – one can’t help but wonder what are we doing to ourselves, our cultures and our planet?

On my album “Under the Sacred Tree” I have recorded my own solo piano arrangement of this song, which differs greatly from the traditional context. Many new elements were added, such as the altered melody, extended melodic lines, reharmonized song structure, additional instrumental sections, unorthodox ornamental elements and more. Basically, the only element of the traditional arrangement that was retained is the song’s original meter – the time signature of 7/8, although I have changed its rhythmic feel as well.

An alternate ‘432 Hertz tuning’ edition of Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem” from the album “Under the Sacred Tree [432Hz Edition]” was released in 2018. This album also features other traditional folk songs as well as my original compositions and it is available as a CD album or as a Digital Download at my online music store at: www.koshanin.bandcamp.com

Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem [432Hz Edition]” by Koshanin:


– – – – – – –

References and quotations:

1. “Turcizmi u srpskohrvatskom jeziku” – Abdulah Škaljić – “Svjetlost” Izdavačko preduzeće – Sarajevo, 1965.

2. “РЕЧНИК савременог српског књиженог језика с језичким саветником” – Др Милош С. Московљевић – Гутенбергова галаксија – Београд, 2000.

3. “Територијално раслојена лексика у књижевном делу Драгослава Михаиловића“ – Докторска дисертација – Тања Ј. Танасковић Универзитет у Крагујевцу, ФилолошкоУметнички факултет – Крагујевац, 2018.

4. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary


Copyright 2019 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.


Part 6: Beyond The Odd Meters: The Mixed Meters

(Previous essay: “Part 5: Examples of Odd Meters in Modern Music”)

Combinations of different meters used in a single music piece are called Mixed Meters. They could be used to create a variety of special effects in music or as a support for any given musical, lyrical, dramatic or thematic context. Since most of the music is obviously written in a single meter, with either the entire music works or at least their individual movements being built on a consistent metric pattern, mixed meters would naturally serve as a perfect tool for breaking this uniformness, for adding another layer of rhythmic complexity or for metric exploration and experimentation.

Based on their placement in musical works I would classify mixed meters in three groups:

– Continuous mixed meters are successive identical patterns consisting of the same combinations of meters which are repeated consistently throughout the entire music piece

– Periodic mixed meters appear regularly within a music piece or have a specific placement in the arrangement. For example: music pieces with different meters or meter combinations used in different sections, specific (uniform or non-uniform) meter sequences reflecting the melodic component etc.

– Sporadic mixed meters which would be just a single inserted meter combination or a random occurrence of different meters within a single piece.


Jazz Pianist Duke Pearson’s tune The Fakir was released on his 1966 album Prairie Dog and at the first hearing of its introductory groove it immediately brings to mind Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five” or John Coltrane’s rendition of “My Favorite Things”. However, in contrast to these two other tunes’ stable meter, this soul-jazz pearl brings into play an interesting mixed meter by combining a 3/4 jazz-waltz feel with a 5/4 meter. The rhythmic foundation for the theme rests on the following sequence:

||:  3/4  |  3/4  |  3/4  |  3/4  :||
Lead melody:
||:  3/4  |  3/4  |  3/4  |  5/4  |  5/4  |  5/4  |  5/4  :||  5/4  |  5/4  |  5/4  |  5/4  ||

“The Fakir” by Duke Pearson:


Another beautiful tune from the late Sixties is Herbie Hancock’s Tell Me A Bed Time Story originally released on his album Fat Albert Rotunda in 1969. A beautiful laid-back melody with plenty of off-beat syncopations flows lazily through a 4/4 meter until it gently rises over a four-bar 5/4 meter section in a preparation for the next theme cycle.

“Tell Me A Bedtime Story” by Herbie Hancock:


A beautiful tune Angel’s Flight by a musical group Shadowfax opens their self-titled second album Shadowfax released in 1982. This delicate tale gently floats over 4/4 and 7/4 meters, faithfully depicting its own title.
Another excellent example for mixed meters by Shadowfax is their song Castaneda’s Boogie – already discussed in the previous essay (Part 5: Examples of Odd Meters in Modern Music).

“Angel’s Flight” by Shadowfax:


English multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield experimented with mixed meters on his famed debut album Tubular Bells released in 1973. He had incorporated several different meters into this elaborate conceptual project. The distinctive opening theme starts with a unique sequence of two different odd meters:

||:  7/8  |  7/8  |  7/8  |  9/8  :||

The specific variations of odd meters used are:

7/8 = (2 + 2 + 3)
9/8 = (2 + 2 + 3 + 2)

As this piece gradually develops, more meters are introduced, namely the 3/4, 4/4 and 5/4.

“Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield:


Stephan Micus, a German multi-instrumentalist and avant-garde musician and composer, well known for his far-reaching musical explorations, including his unique improvised syllables vocalizations, offers a variety of unusual time signatures such as on his recording Thirteen Eagles from his sixteenth album “Desert Poems released in 2001. This piece opens with an ad-lib improvised introduction and eventually settles into a 13-beat meter. Although the number of beats obviously mirrors the title, I prefer to look at it as a seamless alternation between the 6/8 and 7/8 meters.

“Thirteen Eagles” by Stephan Micus:


Following is the ultimate example for odd and mixed meters in music. This piece is one of the first attempts at fusing traditional Balkan music with jazz-rock and certainly one of the most successful ones. This is an original composition by the legendary Serbian guitarist and composer Radomir Mihajlović Točak (in Serbian alphabet: Радомир Михајловић Точак) and it is simply titled Oro which is a common name for a traditional Balkan circle-dance. It was released in 1976 on his first solo-project album R. M. Točak that also features his teammates from the Serbian Progressive Rock group SMAK which he founded in 1971. This is a fast paced tour de force exercise, deeply rooted in the traditional melodic phrasing, built on a complex rhythmic foundation. The underlying metric sequence is as follows:

Guitar Intro (ad lib): ||  7/8  |  7/8  |  10/8  |  11/8  |  7/8  |  10/8  |  4/4  ||
Theme A: ||:  13/7  |  11/7  |  13/7  :||
Theme B: ||:  11/8  |  11/8  |  11/8  |  13/8  :||
Theme C: ||:  11/8  |  7/8  |  7/8  |  11/8  |  13/8  :||
Theme D: ||:  7/8  |  7/8  |  7/8  |  7/8  :||
Theme E: ||:  9/8  |  7/8  |  7/8  |  7/8  :||  7/8  |  7/8  |  11/8  ||

Except for the guitar intro, the entire cycle of themes (A-E) repeats three times. With a more detailed analysis of this song we could identify the exact rhythmic subdivision variations used for each meter:

Intro: || 3+4 | 4+3 | 4+3+3 | 4+4+3 | 4+3 | 4+3+3 | (4/4) ||
Theme A: ||: 4+2+3+4 | 4+3+4 | 4+3+2+4 :||
Theme B: ||: 4+3+4 | 4+3+4 | 4+3+4 | 4+3+2+4 :||
Theme C: ||: 4+3+4 | 3+4 | 3+4 | 4+3+4 | 4+2+3+4 :||
Theme D: ||: 3+4 | 3+4 | 3+4 | 3+4 :||
Theme E: ||: 2+2+2+3 | 3+4 | 3+4 | 3+4 :|| 4+3 | 4+3 | 4+3+4 ||

The metric analysis above reveals that two different rhythmic subdivision variations are used for the 7/8 and 13/8 meters:

7/8 = (3+4) and (4+3)
4/4 = (2+2+2+2)
9/8 = (2+2+2+3)
10/8 = (4+3+3)
11/8 = (4+3+4)
13/8 = (4+2+3+4) and (4+3+2+4)

“Oro” by Radomir Mihajlović Točak:


Such rich and intricate metric organization as seen in Oro could be labeled as an example of the extreme rhythmic complexity, however the reason behind it is the structure of the melodic elements – the lead melody and its phrasing. In fact, metric variety is not uncommon in traditional music. One such example is an old Serbian traditional folk song from the province of Kosovo and Metohija titled Oj golube, moj golube. The original metric arrangement includes 2/4, 3/4 and 5/8 meters:

||  3/4  |  2/4  |  2/4  |  3/4  |  2/4  |  2/4  |  2/4  |  2/4  |  2/4  |  5/8  |  2/4  |  2/4  |  2/4  |  2/4  |  5/8  |  2/4  ||

A slightly modified solo piano rendition of this folk song can be heard on my second solo piano album Under The Sacred Tree released in 2018. This album is available at my BandCamp.com and CDbaby.com online stores.

“Oj golube, moj golube” – arranged and performed by Koshanin:
(The version below is from the alternate album edition “Under The Sacred Tree [432Hz Edition]”)

Some of my own compositions involve mixed meters. One such piece is The Evening Song from my solo piano album Over Seven Seas released in 2011, which is available at my BandCamp.com and CDbaby.com online stores.
The basic metric building block for this piece is a symmetric two-bar sequence comprised of two alternating variations of a 7/8 meter:

(7/8) + (7/8) = ( 2 + 2 + 3 ) + ( 3 + 2 + 2 )

Such rhythmic sequence is the consequence of the melodic phrasing. In other words, the placement of the downbeats in the meter has been determined by the structure of the lead melody and its fragments.

“The Evening Song” by Koshanin:
(available on “Over Seven Seas” album at BandCamp.com and CDbaby.com)

Fairy’s Dance is another piece from my album Over Seven Seas that is based on two different meters. The first few sections of the song cycle rest on a 7/8 meter, while the following sections are based on a two-bar sequence of 6/8 and 7/8 meters. The 6/8 bars, being one eight-note shorter, create a lifting effect in tempo and, along with the ascending harmonic progression, contribute to the emphasizing of the “resolving” role of these sections.

“Fairy’s Dance” by Koshanin:
(available on “Over Seven Seas” album at BandCamp.com and CDbaby.com)
(Note: the [6/8 + 7/8] sections start at 3:13 and 4:01)



Dear reader,

now that you have arrived to this point, after successfully making your way through all six essays, perhaps you’ll feel that reading them was worth your time and attention and that, even though they focused only on a very specific rhythmic aspect of music, you might be now looking at music as an infinite source of mysteries and new discoveries!

In these times of rapid technological advancements music became an inseparable part of our lives. From music on Radio, TV, films, Internet to music in stores, offices, portable music players, smart phones, computers and so on – music became easily accessible and freely available to everyone but as a consequence our ears became saturated with a seemingly endless stream of sounds. As it turns out, music became a victim of that same technology by being increasingly devalued and reduced to a meaningless sonic clutter – a random noise which we are simply registering without any attention. From the healing and ritual music to sacred, spiritual music and religious chanting, we have arrived to an era of electronic music with its “custom phone rings” and “system notification sounds” in computers. One can’t help but wonder if this “sonic evolution” ever gets to a happy ending?

To truly experience any phenomena in this world we need to be fully present with our consciousness. Only with a focused mind can we fully enjoy the music and restore it from a mere background noise to what it really is – the highest form of human expression!

Instead of just hearing the music – let’s truly listen to it!

(Next: “Part 7: “Specialty Mixed Meters…” Coming soon)

Copyright 2018 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.


Part 5: Examples of Odd Meters in Modern Music

(Previous essay: “Part 4: Feeling (and Understanding) the Odd Meters”)

Odd meters are such an important element of traditional Balkan music that even in a randomly picked song we would most likely encounter an odd metered rhythm. However, odd meters are not exclusive to Balkan music and, although even meters (especially 4/4) are definitely prevalent in contemporary music, they are not as rare as one would expect and can be found in various musical styles all over the world.

On the other hand, some music styles utilize only even meters and odds of finding an odd-metered song in such styles would be equal to winning a lottery jackpot. Some of such styles include Reggae, Disco, Salsa, Tango and other Ballroom dance styles (excluding the Waltz which is based exclusively on a 3/4 meter), Club, Techno and others. The main reason for the choice of even meters in these styles is the fact that the primary function of music is to accompany dancing and to allow dancers to focus all their attention to body movement and intricate dance routines. Indeed, a simple and steady rhythmic flow in 2/4 and 4/4 meters creates such solid rhythmic foundation and provides the dancers with a predictable and easy-to-follow pulse.

Certain purpose-specific music styles that are based exclusively on even meters include binaural beats for brainwave entrainment and traditional percussion-driven healing music. Any inconsistencies in the pulse of such music would create a distraction, interfere with its “hypnotic” qualities and ultimately prevent the mind from entering the altered states.

We could add to this list even music for relaxation and meditation, except that here the rhythm functions as a very distant and merely supportive element and is usually overshadowed by the slow motion of the sonic landscape with all of its often densely textured, lush layers.

Jazz music, being one of the more sophisticated contemporary music styles, naturally abounds with compositions based on a variety of unusual and odd meters, however there are plenty of examples of odd meters in various other styles of music, even in Rock and Pop music. Progressive Rock groups such as Genesis, Jethro Tull, Rush and many others experimented extensively with odd meters and even some mainstream artists had written odd meter based songs.

An excellent example is Sting’s song “Straight to My Heart” released on his 1987 album “…Nothing Like the Sun” and written in 7/4. This specific version of the 7/4 meter (2+2+3) gives the lead melody a very interesting phrasing while still retaining a steady pulse of the music. The lead melody could have easily fit in a 6/4 meter as well, however Sting’s choice of the 7/4 meter accommodates it much better by creating a more relaxed feel and allowing the singer to breathe between each line of the lyrics.

“Straight to my Heart” by Sting:

Another “unusual suspect” for the odd meters in Pop / New Wave music is a hit song “Heart of Glass” by American music group “Blondie”, originally released in 1978 on their third album “Parallel Lines”. Some of the instrumental interludes in this song feature a 7/4 meter – a very unusual feature for Disco music. Standard disco beat, known in music jargon as “four-on-the-floor”, is normally a straight 4/4 meter because it creates an even pulse – a solid foundation so crucial for this type of dance music. Even with this seemingly sporadic insertion of an odd meter a steady flow of the music remains undisturbed, primarily because of the meter’s properties (7/4 is a Simple Odd Meter, as explained in “Part 3: Identifying Odd Meters”)

“Heart of Glass” by Blondie:
(The instrumental interlude starts at 1:59)

Pink Floyd”, a British music group well known for their experimental works, especially in their earlier Psychedelic Rock phase, masterfully crafted their hit song “Money”, originally released on their quintessential 1973 album “The Dark Side Of The Moon” which also became their first hit song in the United States. The song is constructed around a signature bass riff in a 7/4 meter. In the middle section the meter switches temporarily to 4/4 for an extended guitar solo and ultimately returns to 7/4 for the remainder of the song.

The points of interest in this song are the “chorus” sections with their Vm and IVm chords (F# minor and E minor, respectively). While technically still in a 7/4 meter, these sections seem to be comprised of two 4/4 bars followed by one 6/4 bar, which mathematically still conform to the underlying 7/4 meter:
(4/4 + 4/4 + 6/4) = (7/4 + 7/4)
with each side of the equation having 14 quarter notes.

The chromatic passing note (F) connecting these two chords falls on the eight quarter-note, which should have been the downbeat of the next bar, but due to its chromatic leading function it is perceived as belonging to the previous chord and as a consequence the first chord gets extended (to 8/4) at the expense of the next one (6/4).

Since the bass and guitar riffs are in unison with the lead vocal melody, perhaps the very reason for this “anomaly” was to accommodate the natural phrasing of the lyrics. After all, it seems like the vocal melody was the deciding factor in this section.

“Money” by Pink Floyd:

One of the most recognizable odd-metered jazz standards is Dave Brubeck Quartet’s iconic “Take Five” written by the quartet’s saxophonist Paul Desmond and originally released on their 1959 album “Time Out”. As its title clearly hints, it was written in the time signature of 5/4 and it is another example of a steady pulse created by Simple Odd Meters.

“Take Five” by Dave Brubeck Quartet:

Another interesting song from the same album is Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk” written in 9/8 and 4/4. This is a great example of a composition that utilizes even meters as well as simple and complex odd meters. The first section of this composition starts with three consecutive complex odd meters (9/8 = 2+2+2+3) followed by one simple odd meter (9/8 = 3+3+3). The choice of the meter for this piece was inspired by the Turkish “aksak” time signatures. The composition then continues with mixed 4/4 and 9/8 meters before settling into a classic 4/4 swing jazz feel for the improvisational section, only to return to the previous ‘mixed meters’ section before closing the song with the opening theme in 9/8. This is perhaps one of the first attempts at blending Balkan and Turkish rhythms with mainstream jazz music.

“Blue Rondo à la Turk” by Dave Brubeck Quartet:

Shadowfax” – a music group from Chicago, demonstrated an interesting application of multiple odd meters in their song “Castaneda’s Boogie” released in 1994 on their final studio album “Magic Theater”. This song includes two extended interlude sections consisting of a repeating pattern of alternating 5, 6, and 7-beat measures: (5/8) + (6/8) + (5/8) + (7/8).
Placed in between the main themes, these two time-shifting interludes signify a temporary departure from a 12/8 rhythmic foundation and obviously represent a virtual journey into another reality, invoking an otherworldly, shamanic sonic environment, as suggested by the song’s title.

“Castaneda’s Boogie” by Shadowfax:
(The first interlude section starts at 1:25 and the second section starts at 3:27)

One of the most creative and clever applications of odd meters is arguably the Béla Fleck and the Flecktones’ composition “Vix 9” written by bassist Victor Wooten and originally released on their 1993 album “Three Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. This 9/8 piece is a real treat for the ‘musical ears’ because the intricate dancing around the meters’ beats by all three musicians creates a challenge for the listeners’ rhythmic sense, keeping them barely hanging to the pulse of music.

“Vix 9” by Béla Fleck and the Flecktones:

Brazilian pioneers of Afro-Samba sound of the 1960s “The Ipanemas”, famous for their 1960 cult album “Os Ipanemas”, reformed the group in 2000 and released several new albums. Their 2006 album “Samba Is Our Gift (O Samba e nosso dom)” includes the song “Malandro Quando Vaza” with two instrumental interludes that subtly transform a classic Samba rhythm into a unique 7/8 meter feel.

“Malandro Quando Vaza” by The Ipanemas:

Odd and Irregular meters are not uncommon in Classical music either and there are numerous examples of composers experimenting with odd meters in their works. A truly beautiful example is the Symphony No. 66 (“Hymn to Glacier Peak”) by Armenian-American composer Alan Hovhaness, with its first movement starting in 7/4 – one of the composer’s favorite meters.

Alan Hovhaness – Symphony No. 66, Hymn to Glacier Peak, Op. 428
(Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Conducted by Gerard Schwarz)

English composer Gustav Holst incorporated an unusual meter into the two movements of his seven-movement orchestral suite “The Planets, Op. 32”. The opening and closing movements “I. Mars, the bringer of War” and “VII. Neptune, the Mystic” are both based on a 5/4 meter. In addition to this metric experimentation, Holst also arranged the closing of the last movement (“Neptune”) with a gradual diminuendo of women’s chorus until the sound eventually becomes inaudible. This movement, written in 1915 and first performed in 1918, became one of the first orchestral pieces with the “fade-out” ending, well before the onset of the recorded music. The sound recording and electronic manipulation techniques which developed decades later practically turned this “fade-out” effect into a preferred ending for popular music recordings and it also became an indispensable music duration control tool, especially important to the Radio and TV industry and the modern Audio and Video production.

Gustav Holst – “Mars, the bringer of War” (the first movement of “The Planets, Op. 32”):
(The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras)

Gustav Holst – “Neptune, the Mystic” (the seventh movement of “The Planets, Op. 32”):
(The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras)

The English Progressive Rock group King Crimson reworked Holst’sMars, the bringer of War” movement and titled their lengthy adaptation “The Devil’s Triangle” (released in 1970 on their second album “In The Wake Of Poseidon”) while retaining the original 5/4 meter. Their adaptation didn’t receive the Holst legal estate’s permission to use his works, hence the new title.

“The Devil’s Triangle” by King Crimson:

While the examples discussed above are practically just the tip of the iceberg, they demonstrate a wide range of applications of odd meters in various music styles and their ability to break the monotony of even meters and enrich the rhythmic foundation of music.

(Next: “Part 6: Beyond The Odd Meters: The Mixed Meters”)

Copyright 2018 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.


Part 4: Feeling (and Understanding) the Odd Meters

(Previous essay: “Part 3: Identifying Odd Meters”)

In the world of music “feeling the music” means understanding the music with our “inner ear”. Music uses an abstract language, however, understanding the musical language doesn’t necessarily imply the intellectual understanding but rather the intuitive understanding by our “inner ear” which is just another metaphor for the “musical” part of our brain. This intuitive understanding of music is what we call “feeling the music”.

To easily explain the difference between hearing and feeling the music we can draw an analogy to the spoken language. Simply listening to some complex music piece whose language we are not familiar with would be the same as hearing a conversation in an unknown foreign language so that all the words would sound to us like a barrage of strange and meaningless sounds.

The melodic, harmonic and rhythmic aspects of music are naturally understood and enjoyed on the intuitive level, however, music can sometimes get so complex that an extra effort and concentration is needed in order to understand and feel it. This is also the case with the more complex rhythms. A couple of good examples for these more complex rhythms are the polyrhythms of West African traditional music and the odd meters in Balkan traditional music.

To unlock these mysterious complexities of the odd meters we will take a closer look into a 7/8 meter:

The two most common divisions, or groupings of the beats, in the 7/8 meter are (3 + 2 + 2) and (2 + 2 + 3). The third possibility (2 + 3 +2) is very rarely used.

For example, we would count the (2 + 2 + 3) meter as a collection of three consecutive segments:

(1, 2) + (1, 2) + (1, 2, 3)

with the emphasis on each division’s downbeat (each number 1) and with the very first beat of the bar naturally receiving the most emphasis of all. In other words, the first beat of each segment is accented because it carries more importance than the following beats (or the so-called “upbeats”) such as in:

(ONE, two) + (ONE, two) + (ONE, two, three)

Try to get the “feel” for this meter by pronouncing all the numbers while keeping a steady pace and then start tapping the hand only on downbeats (the “ONEs”). If a metronome is available, setting it to a comfortable tempo will help with keeping a steady pace. They key is in focusing your attention on the meter’s characteristic uneven pulse created by the hand taps.

Here’s a good example for a 7/8 meter to practice along with. This piece is based on the 3 + 2 + 2 variation, so you should count it as: (ONE, two, three) + (ONE, two) + (ONE, two)
The music is slow enough and the pulse is steady so it should be quite easy to count along:


Tears of Joy [432Hz Edition]” – an original composition in 7/8:

(“Tears of Joy” from my solo piano album “Under the Sacred Tree [432Hz Edition]”)

Once you feel that you can easily follow the pulse and that your inner ear is getting familiar with the flow, proceed to only tap with your hand on the downbeats, without saying the beat numbers anymore or just continue counting them mentally.

After some practice, you’ll find that the main melody also follows these downbeats and then it will all start to “make sense” – almost like the melody has suddenly become “unlocked” to your ears.

Eventually, after some more focused listening, you will be able to fully concentrate and enjoy the melodic part of the music, as it will now seem logical – so much that you won’t even pay much attention to the rhythm. At this point you will realize that you indeed “feel” this odd meter, as it became a second nature to your inner ear after all the practice, and you can now fully enjoy the music!

This “How to” guide used the 7/8 meter as an example because it is one of the most common and easily explained odd meters. However, any other odd meter can be approached and “unlocked” in the same manner.

As we’ve already shown above, each of the odd meters can have several possible variations. For example:

9/8 meter can be rhythmically accented as:

(3 + 3 + 3)


(2 + 2 + 2 + 3)


(3 + 2 + 2 + 2)

11/8 meter can be rhythmically accented as:

(2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2)


(3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2)


The trick for identifying which variation is used in a given music piece is to listen to which beats are accented by the rhythm section (drums, percussion or bass) or to listen closely to the melody and determine on which beats its fragments fall. It takes some counting along the music at first, but eventually it all falls in place.

Below are two examples for a 9/8 meter. Both pieces are based on the (2 + 2 + 2 + 3) variation:

It should be easy to follow the pulse of the “Dragonfly” song because the tempo is steady and the melodic fragments closely follow the meter by falling on its downbeats.


Dragonfly [432Hz Edition]” – an original composition in 9/8:

(“Dragonfly” from my solo piano album “Under the Sacred Tree”)


Na srce mi leži, mila mamo” – my solo piano arrangement of the traditional folk song from Macedonia (in 9/8):

(“Na srce mi leži, mila mamo” from my solo piano album “Under the Sacred Tree”)


Due to multiple rhythmic variations of a given odd meter, in music notation the actual odd meter version is also often indicated alongside the time signature marking at the beginning of the music staff.
The inclusion of the meter version marking is especially important in the notation of traditional Balkan music. This written “shortcut” serves as an instant identification of the meter’s “feel” as it effectively eliminates the need to analyze the music before playing it. For example, for a 7/8 meter we would often see the meter marking shown as:

7/8 (3+2+2)


7/8 (2+2+3)


It’s worth noting here that sometimes the markings for a 7/8 meter are written in their simplified forms such as:

7/8 (3+4) – instead of 7/8 (3+2+2)


7/8 (4+3) – instead of 7/8 (2+2+3)

Theoretically, such markings could also indicate a specific accentuation of the meter. For example a 7/8 (4+3) would imply that only the 1st and 5th beats are actually downbeats which receive the rhythmic emphasis.


We can summarize the first four essays in these series with the following conclusions:

Odd Meters in music are an advanced form of meters;

– All Odd Meters are classified in two main types: Simple (or Basic) and Complex (or Advanced) Odd Meters with the specific subgroups of Compound Odd Meters and Symmetric and Asymmetric Odd Meters;

Simple Odd Meters create an even pulse while Complex Odd Meters create an uneven pulse in music;

Complex Odd Meters contain both even and odd numbered beat segments while Simple Odd Meters contain either odd or even numbered beat segments but not both;

Complex Odd Meters give the music a sense of “forward motion”;

Placement of the 3-beat segment within the meter determines the type and feel of the meter;

– An odd meter is identified by counting its beats and a meter’s specific version is determined by identifying the subdivisions – groupings of beats.

– – – – – – –


Finally, I will conclude this essay with an old Latin proverb:

Repetitio est mater studiorum

and applied to the musical context of these essays its perfectly fitting translation would be:

The best way to get the feel for the odd-meters is to keep listening to the traditional Balkan music!


(Next: “Part 5: Examples of Odd Meters in Modern Music”)

Copyright 2018 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.


Part 3: Identifying Odd Meters

(Previous essay: “Part 2: Classification of Odd Meters”)

When it comes to identifying odd meters, the difference between simple and complex odd meters becomes obvious. Identifying the simple odd meters is quite easy – all we need to do is count the beats along the music and we will quickly determine the actual meter.

Commonly used simple odd meters include 3/4, 5/4, 7/4 and a simple form of a 9/8 meter. The very reason why they create a steady pulse without a feeling of “skipping” is the fact that all beats in simple odd meters are uniformly subdivided. In other words, all their subdivisions have either 2 or 3 eight notes each, but not both.

With the complex odd meters things get a little bit more tricky. In order to identify a specific meter we have to listen to the music closely and first try to identify the main downbeats – the points at which each bar starts. Usually the rhythm section (drums, percussion or even bass guitar) would accentuate these downbeats, but the melody would also often start or end at these same points.

Because an overwhelming amount of music has been written in 4/4, when we hear a new piece of music we instinctively expect an even pulse, due to what I would call a “4/4 brain conditioning” and we would naturally count the quarter-note beats as: (1, 2, 3, 4), (1, 2, 3, 4) and so on. With odd meters, however, we would eventually encounter a “skip” in the pulse and it would feel as if the music is suddenly moving forward before our next expected count. Whenever this perceived “skip” happens while listening to the music – it becomes a clear indication that we are hearing an odd meter.

We would then have to count the beats in each bar by tapping with a foot or hand along the music to determine how many taps precede the skip which is where the perceived “missing” note occurs.

For example, if we counted 4 beats before the skip occurs that means that the last counted beat was shorter, as the music seemingly proceeded prematurely into the next bar. That would give us three full beats (of one quarter note each) and the last incomplete beat would have to be a single eight-note. Mathematically formulated that would look like this:

(3 x 1/4) + (1 x 1/8)

which is the same as:

(6 x 1/8) + 1/8 = 7/8

and as a result, that gives us a 7/8 meter.

If we counted 5 beats (before the skip) that would give us a 9/8 meter:

(4 x 1/4) + (1 x 1/8) = (8 x 1/8) + 1/8 = 9/8

The procedure above assumes that we are counting the quarter notes, however depending on the actual rhythm and tempo of the music – we might end up counting the eight notes, so we could potentially count the correct number of beats right away.

While counting the beats is a good staring point for identifying a meter, trying to get the feel for an odd meter by thinking of it as an incomplete even meter (with one extra or one missing beat) would prove to be a dead end. By looking at a 7/8 meter as a 4/4 meter with a missing beat at the end, or as a 6/8 meter with an extra beat at the end, we would have to keep counting from 1 to 7 over each bar throughout the whole song just to stay afloat, without truly locking in to the rhythm.

The rhythmic sense of our brain is challenged by the irregular pulse of odd meters and a natural desire to identify the meter arises from a need to understand the rhythm and melody. Without this understanding, either intellectual or intuitive, the music and rhythm would remain to our ears as just an irregular, meaningless succession of sounds and beats.

The melody and rhythm of any music piece rely on each other and are usually interlocked. They closely follow and support each other, while in general the melodic part plays a key role and the rhythmic part assumes a supporting role. As explained previously (in “Part 1: Introduction to Odd Meters”), the rhythmic base of music is constructed with recurring time segments – bars, but the melodic part also consists of short fragments which, put together, make a complete musical statement. The phrasing, accentuation and length of these short fragments are matched by the rhythm so that the rhythm section in a music group will naturally accentuate or emphasize the starting beats of these fragments. These starting beats are called “downbeats” and they signify the beginning of each subdivision or grouping of beats. These downbeats receive the most rhythmic emphasis, with the first beat of the meter – the main downbeat being the most important of all.

We can conclude that the secret of odd meters lies in their uneven, irregular subdivision which creates a variety of different rhythmic “feels” of the same nominal meter, while each specific “feel” is determined by the placement of the odd-numbered segment within a meter.

We have now established that the first and necessary step to understanding any odd meter is to identify it by counting its beats. Once we have the number of the beats we can proceed to determine the meter’s specific rhythmic subdivision which will allow us to fully lock in to its uneven pulse and thus make it feel ‘natural’ to our ears.

Here are a few examples of songs to demonstrate some of the odd meters and to practice the counting of beats:


Clouds” – an original composition written in 3/4:

(“Clouds” from my solo piano album “Over Seen Seas”)


Ajde Jano” – my solo piano arrangement of the traditional Serbian folk song from the Kosovo & Metohija region – in 7/8:

(“Ajde Jano” from my solo piano album “Over Seen Seas”)


Dragonfly [432Hz Edition]” – an original composition in 9/8:

(“Dragonfly” from my solo piano album “Under the Sacred Tree [432Hz Edition]”)


(Next: “Part 4: Feeling (and Understanding) the Odd Meters”)

Copyright 2018 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.


Part 2: Classification of Odd Meters

(Previous essay: “Part 1: Introduction to Odd Meters”)

Defining the term “odd meter” can be somewhat confusing because the word “odd” implies multiple meanings. Depending on the context, the word itself refers to a variety of different things and situations including: unusual, irregular, unexpected, eccentric, fantastic, bizarre etc. While some musicians often use the word “odd” to describe an irregular or uncommon time signature or meter, the correct term for all non-ordinary meters is “unusual meter” while “odd meter” refers specifically to meters with an odd number of beats. In other words, the time signature marking for an odd meter will always have an odd number for the upper numeral.

All odd meters can be classified in two categories, depending on the pulse of music they create:

Simple or Basic Odd Meters which create an even, steady pulse in music: 3/4, 5/4, 7/4 etc.

Complex or Advanced Odd Meters which create an uneven pulse in music: 5/8, 7/8, 11/8, 13/8, 15/8 etc.

Here’s an example of a 3/4 simple odd meter:

(“Dream Walking” from my solo piano album “Over Seen Seas”)

and an example for a 7/8 complex odd meter (3+2+2 variation):

(“Gusta mi magla padnala“ from my solo piano album “Over Seven Seas”)

I should note here that what I refer to as “complex or advanced odd meters” is classified in formal Western music theory as a part of “additive meters” or “additive time signatures” – a group encompassing both odd and even meters.

An exception to the classification above is a 9/8 meter which falls in either category, depending on its actual subdivision:

(3 + 3 + 3) = simple odd meter
(2 + 2 + 2 + 3) or (3 + 2 + 2 + 2) = complex odd meters

Other, much less common, exceptions include 15/8 and 21/8 meters. All of these three exceptions are actually classified in music theory as “compound meters” which are the meters whose upper numeral in their time signature is either 3 or a multiple of number 3 such as in: 3/8, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8, 15/8 etc. Obviously, as the term “compound meters” encompasses both even and odd meters, we would need to establish a separate group of “compound odd meters” that would include all our crossover exceptions (9/8, 15/8, 21/8), with two subgroups:

Simple Compound Odd Meters:

9/8 (3+3+3)
15/8 (3+3+3+3+3)

Complex Compound Odd Meters:

9/8 (2+2+2+3 or 3+2+2+2 etc.)
15/8 (3+4+4+4 or 4+4+4+3 etc.)

We can conclude that complex odd meters contain both even and odd numbered beat segments (internal groupings of 2 or 3 beats). The placement of the odd-numbered segment within a meter determines the actual “feel” of the meter, as it can be placed at the beginning, in the middle, at the end, or anywhere within the meter. When this extended 3-beat segment is placed in the middle of a meter it constitutes a “Symmetric Complex Odd Meter”, otherwise all other placements form the “Asymmetric Complex Odd Meters”.

Here’s a list of common odd meter subdivisions, with the extended 3-beat segments shown in bold:

– 7/8 meter subdivision variations:

2 + 2 + 3
3 + 2 + 2

– 9/8 meter subdivision variations:

2 + 2 + 2 + 3
3 + 2 + 2 + 2
3 + 3 + 3 (simple odd meter)

– 11/8 meter subdivision variations:

3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2
2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2
2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 3

– 13/8 meter subdivision variations:

3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2
2 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2
2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 2

– 15/8 meter subdivision variations:

3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2
2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 3
3+3+3+3+3 (simple odd meter)

Obviously, not all possible variations are commonly used in music. In case of a 7/8 meter, the extended 3-beat segment is placed either at the beginning or at the end of the meter and rarely in the middle. The most likely reason for this is that, when placed in the middle of the meter, a single preceding 2-beat segment would feel as a short “pick up” or a leftover from the previous bar, and our inner ear would eventually “regroup” the meter and recognize the 3-beat segment as the beginning of a meter. In other words, our inner rhythmic ear will naturally convert the 2 + 3 + 2 meter into 3 + 2 + 2 meter.

It looks like the prerequisite to a musically pleasing and comfortable placement of a 3-note segment is a set of at least two preceding 2-beat segments. The common placement of the 3-beat segments in the middle of meters 11/8 and 13/8 further support this theory. With these longer odd meters the 3-beat segments, when placed in the middle of a meter, are placed almost exclusively after at least two preceding 2-beat segments.

Every rule implies its own exceptions and the same goes for my “3-note segment placement” theory. Some examples of such exceptions can be found in a couple of Bulgarian folk dances which are based on 7/8 (2+3+2) and on 9/8 (2+3+2+2) such as in “Grancharsko horo” (Грънчарско хopo).


Odd Meters are meters with an odd number of beats and are classified in two main categories, depending on the pulse of music they create:

Simple or Basic Odd Meters – create an even, steady pulse
examples: 3/4, 5/4, 7/4 etc.
Complex or Advanced Odd Meters – create an uneven pulse in music
examples: 5/8, 7/8, 11/8, 13/8, 15/8 etc.

Compound Odd Meters are meters whose number of beats (upper numeral in their time signature) is an odd multiple of number 3 and they can be Simple or Complex meters depending on their subdivision:

– Simple Compound Odd Meters
examples: 9/8 (3+3+3), 15/8 (3+3+3+3+3)
– Complex Compound Odd Meters
examples: 9/8 (2+2+2+3 or 3+2+2+2 etc.), 15/8 (3+4+4+4 or 4+4+4+3   etc.)

Depending on the 3-beat segment placement, Complex Odd Meters can be:

Symmetric Complex Odd Meter (3-beat segment placed in the middle of a meter)
example: 11/8 (2+2+3+2+2)
Asymmetric Complex Odd Meters (3-beat segment placed anywhere, except in the middle)
example: 11/8 (3+2+2+2+2)

Finally, if we wanted to complicate this classification even further, we could establish two more distinct subgroups for the Complex Compound Odd Meters, based on their 3-beat segment placement:

Symmetric Complex Compound Odd Meters (3-beat segment placed in the middle of a meter)
example: 15/8 (2+2+2+3+2+2+2)
Asymmetric Complex Compound Odd Meters (3-beat segment placed anywhere, except in the middle)
example: 15/8 (3+2+2+2+2+2+2) which is the same as (3+4+4+4)


(Next: “Part 3: Identifying Odd Meters”)

Copyright 2018 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.


Part 1: Introduction to Odd Meters

In music theory terms “meter” and “time signature” refer to the pulse of the music and more specifically to the organization of the recurring time segments. Although interchangeable in music jargon, “meter” is a formal term and “time signature” refers specifically to the meter marking at the beginning of a staff in a music notation – it is actually a numerical representation of a meter. These recurring time segments can be thought of as “building blocks” for the rhythmic base of music and are called “bars” or “measures”.

We can safely assume that most of the music from around the world is based on 4/4 and 3/4 meters. Along with the 2/4, these are arguably the most natural meters and, as such, they are easily followed and intuitively understood and felt by our rhythmic “inner ear”. No explanation needed – even the very young children intuitively recognize these meters and naturally tap along the beat. These simple meters create an even, steady pulse which gives the music a sense of stability and predictability and I would dare to label them here as the “primal meters”.

While the 2/4 and 4/4 are obviously even meters, a 3/4 meter is technically an odd meter as it divides each bar into an odd number of equal segments (three segments with one quarter note in each). However, because of the subdivision of its 3 quarter notes into 2 eight notes each, and through its continual repetition in a given music piece, it creates a steady pulse, just like 2/4 and 4/4 meters do, so we can consider it a straight primal meter that creates an even pulse, at least by how the pulse is perceived by the listener.

In contrast to these simple, primal meters we find an abundance of more complex odd meters in various musical traditions around the world. While in some parts of the world odd meters are practically non-existent, in other cultures they are so overwhelmingly present that they can be considered a nearly crucial, defining feature. Along with several Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, Armenia and some other cultures around the world, one such part of the world is the Helm region in Southeast Europe (also known today as the Balkan region). In countries such as Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey and somewhat in Hungary, Romania and others, meters such as 7/8, 9/8, 11/8 and 13/8 in all their variations are so prominently featured in traditional folk music that they are truly an inseparable element – a staple feature, often to an extent that the music written in an even meter becomes an exception to the rule.

Because of the odd number of beats in each bar, the listeners who are not accustomed to odd meters would, at first, find it quite difficult to follow the rhythm and the flow of music. They would constantly find themselves lost in between the beats and would often feel as if the music is rushing or skipping beats. It would often seem as the performers are playing freely, with no regard to any meter whatsoever, but at the same time they would all somehow start and finish their melodies together, perfectly.

It might sound surprising, but this sometimes applies even to musicians, especially if they are not familiar with the odd meters. One famous anecdote recounts a funny situation in which a well known music group from Macedonia (“Leb i sol”) had someone from the audience complain that they “played their rhythms wrong”, while performing in a club on their USA tour. Naturally, they had to explain on the spot to the “concerned listener” about the odd meters and teach them to clap their hands along the 7/8 meter.

By applying to music the fact that odd numbers cannot be divided in half, we eventually end up with a bar that cannot be divided into two (or more) equal time segments. In fact, this is the crucial feature and the main cause for the complexity of the odd meters.

For example, if we attempt to count the eight-note beats in pairs – there will always be one extra beat in each bar. In case of a 7/8 meter we would then get to:
2 + 2 + 2 + 1
and, in turn, our brain would perceive this as an irregularity or skipping. For this reason, if listeners are to feel the rhythm without any skipping, they will have to constantly be aware of the meter’s main downbeat (the first beat of the bar). Eventually, counting along the music becomes redundant and this is where the placement of accented beats within the meter comes into play as it creates different “feels” of the same odd meter.

We can conclude that, when compared to the simple, primal meters, the odd meters force our brain to work much harder in order to keep the awareness of time and pulse of the music. On the other hand, as difficult as listening to odd meters is in the beginning – as enjoyable it becomes once we finally get to “understand” them. The odd meters create a “forward motion” in music – a sense of tension and rhythmic urgency which is perceived as moving ahead of the pulse. The odd meters also seem to be rhythmically more interesting and dynamic than even meters.

– – – – – – –

Below is an example of a song in a 7/8 meter. It is a traditional shepherds’ folk song “Navali se Shar-planina(in Cyrillic alphabet: “Навали се Шар-планина” or also “Се навали Шар-планина”) from the Shara Mountain in the Balkan region. My solo piano arrangement places this song in an unusual, non-traditional context, but even with the slightly modified melody, the underlying 7/8 meter still remains as the cohesive factor throughout the song.

(Direct link: “Navali se Shar-planina” on musicoin.org)


(Next: “Part 2: Classification of Odd Meters”)

Copyright 2018 Koshanin. All rights reserved. Any copying, reproduction, or use, in part or full, without prior consent of the author is prohibited.