ODD METERS AND TIME SIGNATURES IN MUSIC (Part 2)

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
or:
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
or
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).

CONCLUSION:

1.
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.

2.
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.)

3.
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)

4.
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.

Author: koshanin

A pianist and composer in a continuous search for beauty and simplicity in music.

One thought on “ODD METERS AND TIME SIGNATURES IN MUSIC (Part 2)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *