A Cool Way to Switch up the Beat

A Cool Way to Switch up the Beat

The Tunedly Team
Looking for ways to improve your songwriting skills? One technique you can apply is to add irregular time signatures to your songs to add depth and to make them more interesting.

If you spent some time learning music theory, you’re likely to already be familiar with the term and how it works. But just in case you’re asking “What’s that?” an irregular time signature, also known as an uneven or asymmetric beat, is a piece of music that is unable to be subdivided into equal parts of two or three beats. It is different from the conventional groupings such as the 6/8 or 4/4 crotchet groups and, instead, splits each quaver or crotchet so that the notes are unevenly distributed.

As a result, the most common irregular time signatures are quintuple time (5/4 or 5/8) and septuple time (7/4 or 7/8). If you’ve ever listened intently to the rhythm (beat) of a song or piece of music and find yourself missing a beat here and there, instead of following in perfect step, you’ve probably heard what an irregular time signature sounds like.

Irregular time signatures aren’t a new concept. In fact, there are a number of famous songs and themes that have employed the technique to glorious effect. “Hey Ya” by Outkast is one such example, as well as “I Say A Little Prayer” by Dionne Warwick and “Money” by Pink Floyd. The original theme music for the “Mission: Impossible” movies also contains an irregular time signature.

With that said, if you would like to play around or experiment with using irregular time signatures in your songs, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

1. Start with a goal in mind

Before proceeding with adding an irregular time signature to your project, decide whether you want the end result to be something funky or a thoughtful track that people will actually enjoy and want to keep listening to. You can quickly get carried away when experimenting with irregular time signatures as there are so many possibilities. Beginning with a particular aim in mind will help to prevent that.

2. Put emphasis on the opening beat

Making the opening beat strong is an effective way to grab listeners and keep them interested in any song. This is even more important if it's a piece of music composed with an irregular time signature, especially when it's being listened to for the first time. In addition to helping the listener quickly get familiar with the uncommon beat, it also unconsciously piques their interest to hear how the rest of the song unfolds.

3. Decide how you want to divide the notes

Odd-numbered quintuples and septuples make it possible for you to split quavers and crotchets in a number of creative ways due to the presence of a free dotted quarter. The sound you end up with depends on where you decide to place it, which can be the front, middle or end.

4. Don’t overdo it

As mentioned earlier, it’s easy to get carried away when working with irregular time signatures. The science of it all can be rather intriguing but you need to remember you’re not in a music theory class (unless that’s what you do) nor are you creating music for other musicians. You’re making songs to please an audience that won’t necessarily be fascinated with the math, so while someone with a trained musical ear might be impressed with your use of an overly intricate irregular time signature, a regular listener might find it jarring.

Trying out irregular time signatures might seem complex when attempting it for the first time. However, like any other music-creation technique, it's possible to eventually get it with practice. Furthermore, there are many irregular time signature tutorials on YouTube and other sites that can assist you in becoming a pro at it. Why not give it a try? Be sure to let us know how it works out for you.