Irregular Time in Popular Music of the 20th Century by Alon Tevet - Illustrated by Soundfly - Ourboox.com
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Irregular Time in Popular Music of the 20th Century

by

Artwork: Soundfly

Member Since
Oct 2020
Published Books
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Before we start talking about the evolution of Irregular Time Signatures in popular music, we will need to explain what Irregular Time Signatures are.

 

Irregular Time Signatures refer to time measures in music in which the Numerator of the time measure is an odd number.

Most of western music uses Simple Time Signatures, which mean the Numerator is an even number.

 

For example, an Irregular Time Signature would be 7/4,

while a Simple Time Signature would be the classic 4/4.

 

To the western ear, Simple Time Signatures provide a comforting and familiar rhythm to a song. In contrast, Irregular Time Signatures provide a more interesting and exciting rhythm, strictly because we are not used to it.

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And now, the chronology of Irregular Time Signature in western popular music in the 20th century:

 

 

 

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Dave Brubeck was perhaps the architect of Irregular Time Signature usage in western music. Not to anyone’s surprise, this innovation of music started from Jazz.

 

Out of all of mister Brubeck’s songs, the most popular one would have to be the brilliant “Take 5”, which was aptly named, as it features the Irregular Time Signature of 5/4.

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The next famous example of an Irregular Time Signature, which uses the 5/4 rhythm again, is the Mission Impossible theme from 1967 written by Lalo Schifrin:

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Moving onwards from these purely instrumental pieces, the next example comes from Rock ‘n Roll.

‘All you need is love’ by the Beatles features an asymmetrical time signature structure:

The main verse pattern contains a total of 29 beats, split into two 7/4 measures, a single bar of 8/4, followed by a one bar return of 7/4 before repeating the pattern.

These frequent changes and usages of asymmetrical Irregular Time Signatures make the listener confused and lost, while the chorus plays in classic 4/4 Simple Time Signature (except for the very last chorus, which goes to 6/4).

This change offers a haven of sorts from the irregularity of the verses. A home.

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Going into the heavier Rock ‘n Roll genre, Led Zeppelin have been known to use various kinds of Irregular Time Signatures to excite the listener.

 

The first example would be Black Dog, which goes from using 4/4 to 3/4 to 5/4.

 

The second example would be Kashmir, which in addition to using the Irregular Time Signature of 9/8, plays in polyrhythm- which means that within the same bar, two or more different instruments play in different time.

In Kashmir, the drums play 4/4, while the singer and the other instruments play 3/4.

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Going into Progressive Rock, one famous song from the legendary band Pink Floyd has used the time signature of 7/4, their 1973 single Money.

 

There is some debate on whether or not the time should be understood as 7/4, 7/8 or 21/8, but in reality they differ very slightly from each other.

 

Perhaps more interestingly, the solo plays in 4/4 out of necessity- playing a solo at 7/4 proved too difficult for David Gilmour.

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Another example of 7/4 time would be Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill from 1977:

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Well then, as you can see, while Irregular Time Signatures are certainly an irregularity in western popular music from the 20th century, clearly representing a tiny fraction of the songs from that era, the few artists that did decide to utilize these time signatures have created some of the most memorable songs of their time.

 

Innovation is king.

 

 

 

Thank you for reading my book!

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