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Time Sig Befuddlement - Help!

GD1977

Member
Messages
185
Can anybody explain to me, in terms that a simpleton of my calibre can understand (which is asking a great deal, I know), how we decide whether something is, say, 3/4 or 6/8. Also, when would something be, say, 9/8 rather than 9/4. I understand what the numbers mean, i.e. beats in a bar/length of beat, but never really tied it in to what it sounds like.

I've never really got it and, as I've recently been jamming along with the "new" Soundgarden song Black Rain, now seemed like a good time to get it straight! I'm getting it as 9/4 in the verses and mostly 4/4 everywhere else. But I seem to see 9/8 used more than 9/4, and wondered why it might be one rather than the other. I'm going for 9/4 here just to keep consistency in the denominator. How wrong am I?
 

willemhdb

Member
Messages
22
When it comes to odd time signatures like 9/8, there really is no golden rule in my experience. It depends on the piece and what it sounds like and if there are any measures with a more common time signature (what you said about keeping consistency in the `denominator').

Having said that, there is a clear rhythmical distinction between 3/4 and 6/8 in the way the accents are played.

I'm a huge Soundgarden fan and used to think about time signatures in relation to their songs a lot.

Soundgarden's "Never the Machine Forever" is in 9/8. But "Fell on Black Days" and "Outshined" could be in either 6/4 or 4/4 and 2/4. I would go for the former while transcribing, but would love to hear a more definitive argument from someone more knowledgeable than me!

Willem
http://www.theloneguitaristblog.com
 

Super Locrian

Member
Messages
1,507
3/4 is 2+2+2 eight notes
6/8 is 3+3 eight notes

If you have a song that starts in 7/8, and want a few measures of waltz thrown in for good measure (if you've ever played in a prog band you must have encountered something like this :D) you would notate the new time signature as 3/4 and not 6/8.

The distinction between 9/4 vs. 9/8 is not as clear cut. In the Genesis tune "Supper's Ready", there's a part called "Apocalypse in 9/8" which I would rather have labeled 9/4. Generally, you'd expect a quarter-note pulse to be slower than an eight-note pulse, but I don't think there are any hard and fast rules for this.
 

gtrnstuff

Member
Messages
2,592
I hear Black Rain as based on a slow 4, so the verses in 9/8 makes sense to me. The slow 4 with an extra 8th note.
 
Messages
2,930
3/4 is 2+2+2 eight notes
6/8 is 3+3 eight notes

If you have a song that starts in 7/8, and want a few measures of waltz thrown in for good measure (if you've ever played in a prog band you must have encountered something like this :D) you would notate the new time signature as 3/4 and not 6/8.

The distinction between 9/4 vs. 9/8 is not as clear cut. In the Genesis tune "Supper's Ready", there's a part called "Apocalypse in 9/8" which I would rather have labeled 9/4. Generally, you'd expect a quarter-note pulse to be slower than an eight-note pulse, but I don't think there are any hard and fast rules for this.
Why do you describe 3/4 as 2+2+2 eighth notes rather than 1 + 1 + 1 quarter notes?

Not saying your wrong just wondering because I'm not hearing a waltz in the 2+2+2 eighth notes description.
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,678
Can anybody explain to me, in terms that a simpleton of my calibre can understand (which is asking a great deal, I know), how we decide whether something is, say, 3/4 or 6/8. Also, when would something be, say, 9/8 rather than 9/4. I understand what the numbers mean, i.e. beats in a bar/length of beat, but never really tied it in to what it sounds like.
Any "n/8" time sig is a "compound" metre. That means that the 8th notes are NOT beats, but form fractions of the beats - typically 3rds.
That's why 6/8 means 2 beats in a bar, and 9/8 normally means 3 beats.
As Super Locrian says, 6/8 is different from 2/4 in that each beat divides into 3 (8th triplets) instead of two (even 8ths).
Likewise, 9/8 normally means 3 beats, each with triplet subdivisions -"One-and-a-Two-and-a-Three-and-a"
I've never really got it and, as I've recently been jamming along with the "new" Soundgarden song Black Rain, now seemed like a good time to get it straight! I'm getting it as 9/4 in the verses and mostly 4/4 everywhere else. But I seem to see 9/8 used more than 9/4, and wondered why it might be one rather than the other. I'm going for 9/4 here just to keep consistency in the denominator. How wrong am I?
Listen to the drums. Bass drum and snare mark the main beats, bass on 1 and 3, snare on 2 and 4.
That's a bpm of around 90.
Think of bpm as a natural pulse for the music. This is feels like a medium/slow tempo tune. If you were going to clap along to this, or tap your foot, or walk or dance or march to it, 90 bpm would be the natural beat rate. Set a metronome to 180 and it feels too fast.
So, from that perspective, the verse is 9/8: 4/4 bars with an extra 8th added. Or alternating 2/4 and 5/8, if you like.

So it's not the usual 9/8 (3 triplet beats). You'd count it as "One-and-Two-and-Three-and-Four-and-a" (making sure each of those syllables is equally timed of course).

Conventional 9/8 is very rare in rock.
Keane's "Broken Toy" (intro at least) is in conventional 9/8 (3 triplet beats): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQyEY6lyip0
Dream Theater's "Voices" (the opening instrumental section) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvEOsdH8T_8 - has a similar beat breakdown to "Black Rain" - 2/4 + 5/8, or 4/4 + 1/8 if you like.
(Parts of the Beatles "Happiness is a Warm Gun" are in 9/8, but mixed in with a lot of other metres. Part of Genesis's "Apocalypse in 9/8" is - you guessed it - in 9/8, but not the whole thing.)

In classical music, Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" is probably the most famous (based on the figure 3 because of its association with the Trinity).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkTKhnoBDto
Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" is also 9/8, but a little less clearly marked.
In popular music, the old Stephen Foster tune "Beautiful Dreamer" is 9/8.
(WARNING: for heavy rock fans, this may be too a shocking contrast to "Black Rain" - best sit down first...)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4U1l5y2rkzA&feature=related

In jazz, Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" is in 9/8, divided into 3/4 and 3/8:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kc34Uj8wlmE
It's at least twice as fast as "Black Rain", but you can hear the same 4 beats with the 4th a little longer than the other 3: "One-and-Two-and-Three-and-Four-and-a".
 
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JonR

Member
Messages
15,678
Why do you describe 3/4 as 2+2+2 eighth notes rather than 1 + 1 + 1 quarter notes?

Not saying your wrong just wondering because I'm not hearing a waltz in the 2+2+2 eighth notes description.
It's simply to demonstrate the difference between 3/4 and 6/8.
Waltz is "One-and-Two-and-Three-and" - three quarter-note beats each dividing into two.
Listen to the intro here:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lG3nXyI41M

6/8 time is "One-and-a-Two-and-a". Two beats, each divided into 8th-note triplets. (Think "For he's a jolly good fellow", or "We're off to see the wizard....")

6/8 is used in rock, but it tends to be at slower tempos. Here's one you'll know:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3-_DbEYe7A&ob=av2n
(doesn't really get going till around 0:45)
 

KRosser

Member
Messages
14,252
The best distinction between 3/4 and 6/8 I can think of is Leonard Bernstein's "America" from West Side Story.

You know, "I want to live in A-mer-i-ca"?

"I want to live in A-" = 6/8

"mer-i-ca" = 3/4
 

chronowarp

Member
Messages
680
Any "n/8" time sig is a "compound" metre. That means that the 8th notes are NOT beats, but form fractions of the beats - typically 3rds.
That's why 6/8 means 2 beats in a bar, and 9/8 normally means 3 beats.
As Super Locrian says, 6/8 is different from 2/4 in that each beat divides into 3 (8th triplets) instead of two (even 8ths).
Likewise, 9/8 normally means 3 beats, each with triplet subdivisions -"One-and-a-Two-and-a-Three-and-a"
Listen to the drums. Bass drum and snare mark the main beats, bass on 1 and 3, snare on 2 and 4.
That's a bpm of around 90.
Think of bpm as a natural pulse for the music. This is feels like a medium/slow tempo tune. If you were going to clap along to this, or tap your foot, or walk or dance or march to it, 90 bpm would be the natural beat rate. Set a metronome to 180 and it feels too fast.
So, from that perspective, the verse is 9/8: 4/4 bars with an extra 8th added. Or alternating 2/4 and 5/8, if you like.

So it's not the usual 9/8 (3 triplet beats). You'd count it as "One-and-Two-and-Three-and-Four-and-a" (making sure each of those syllables is equally timed of course).

Conventional 9/8 is very rare in rock.
Keane's "Broken Toy" (intro at least) is in conventional 9/8 (3 triplet beats): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQyEY6lyip0
Dream Theater's "Voices" (the opening instrumental section) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cvEOsdH8T_8 - has a similar beat breakdown to "Black Rain" - 2/4 + 5/8, or 4/4 + 1/8 if you like.
(Parts of the Beatles "Happiness is a Warm Gun" are in 9/8, but mixed in with a lot of other metres. Part of Genesis's "Apocalypse in 9/8" is - you guessed it - in 9/8, but not the whole thing.)

In classical music, Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" is probably the most famous (based on the figure 3 because of its association with the Trinity).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkTKhnoBDto
Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries" is also 9/8, but a little less clearly marked.
In popular music, the old Stephen Foster tune "Beautiful Dreamer" is 9/8.
(WARNING: for heavy rock fans, this may be too a shocking contrast to "Black Rain" - best sit down first...)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4U1l5y2rkzA&feature=related

In jazz, Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" is in 9/8, divided into 3/4 and 3/8:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kc34Uj8wlmE
It's at least twice as fast as "Black Rain", but you can hear the same 4 beats with the 4th a little longer than the other 3: "One-and-Two-and-Three-and-Four-and-a".
You're gonna have to explain this one to me (bolded). I'm just hearing this as 3/4...1-2-3...
 

KRosser

Member
Messages
14,252
sometimes 6/8 is compound and sometimes not. African rhythms based on 6/8 are not triplet based.
I'm only familiar with the West African 6/8 stuff from a playing perspective, but it's absolutely two groups of three. There's just also a 'four-tuplet' overlaid onto it, or four dotted 1/8's if you want to look at it that way, and the 1's don't necessarily line up.
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,678
sometimes 6/8 is compound and sometimes not. African rhythms based on 6/8 are not triplet based.
Then they shouldn't be written in 6/8. ;)
Once I stopped trying to hear it as triplet based it made more sense.

Phil Maturano does a good job IMO of explaining afro-cuban in the 'European' counting system:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE-24OG83Ms

Right - he''s making it a lot more complicated than it is, IMO. It's about superimposing 2/4 on 6/8, of course (or vice versa), but he's making rather heavy weather of it.
For some reason - not well explained IMO - he's calling 2/4 "cut time" (and playing 8 16ths over the 2/4 pulse).

It's also possible to think of African versions of this kind of polyrhythm as 12/8, which allows groupings of 2x6, 4x3 and 3x4. (Not to mention various ways of arranging the 24 16ths...)
The whole 'compound' and 'not-compound' idea applies to other rhythms as well - like 5/4 is sometimes counted in sub-groups of 2 and 3, and sometimes counted just as one group of 5. It is a different feel. There is no set formula for figuring this stuff out. You have to listen and determine the logic in the rhythm by listening.
Right. You need to determine the logic by listening first, and then deciding the best way to notate it.
Eg, in notating that Afro-Cuban rhythm, should we think of it 6/8 with a 2/4 laid over it - or 2/4 with 6/8 laid over?
Of course it's both together, most of the time, but the 6/8 seems to dominate. But in writing it as 6/8, we need to remember that it includes that idea of the superimposed duple rhythm. It's not plain old western 6/8, that's for sure!
 

JonR

Member
Messages
15,678
The Keane intro, I think. Must confess, I heard that as 3/4 too, but figured I'm just terminally confused!
The Keane intro is 3 beats per bar, yes - about 120 bpm - but each beat has 3 sub-divisions (triplets).
You can hear the triplet sub-beat in some of the drum fills, and in the bass syncopation.
It's a little like a slow jazz 3/4, with swing 8ths, but the triplets are clearly enough marked (and regular) to make 9/8 the better time sig.
You'd still count this as "1-2-3", but if you were to add a count for the triplets it'd be "1-and-a-2-and-a-3-and-a".
 




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