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The time signature you use determines the patterns of strong beats and weak beats in your songwriting – or vice versa! This usually happens without us giving it much of a thought. The vast majority of music from pop song genres use a 4/4 time signature. That is to say, they alternate back and forth between strong beats and weak beats: STRONG – weak – STRONG – weak, etc. That accounts for easily 95% or more of the songs on the Billboard charts. If you’ve never given time signatures much consideration before, you might be missing out on an opportunity to create something that stands out from most of the other songs being written today.
Of songs that don’t use the typical 4/4 meter, songs in 3/4 are the most common. So that you can hear the difference, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” features a verse in 3/4 time, switching to 4/4 time for the chorus.
It’s relatively easy to convert a song that’s in 4/4 time into 3/4. Because 3/4 is usually STRONG – weak – weak… it usually means that you’re going to try to shorten up part of each 4/4 bar to properly convert it. Here’s what “Hey Jude” might have sounded like in 3/4 time. [Opens in a new browser window] In general, you can use your instincts and you should come up with something that works.
As you can hear, converting a song from 4/4 to 3/4 will change the feel of a song, and that’s probably why you’d do it. You can also hear, if you listen to “Hey Jude” in 3/4, that a lot of the “punch” of the 4/4 time signature is dissipated – another reason to use 3/4, if you’re looking to soften the production of your song.
If you’re looking for something a bit more outside the norms of traditional song meters, you might want to experiment with 5 beats per measure (5/4 or 5/8). Here’s an example that clearly demonstrates it: “Everything’s All Right” from “Jesus Christ Superstar”. Or perhaps a song in 7: “Money” from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”.
When you convert a song from 4/4 to something else, you’ll still keep beat number 1 of each bar the same. So in your original 4/4 song, try counting 1-2-3-4 throughout your song. Then, when you convert it to, say, 3/4, the result should allow you to count 1-2-3 throughout, with all the ‘1’ counts of the 4/4 version lining up with the ‘1’ counts of the 3/4 version.
And as done by The Beatles and many other groups, there’s no reason you can’t switch time signatures in mid-stream. All in all, unexpected time signatures is a way of introducing something innovative to your song, and can help you achieve the mood and feel you’ve been looking for.
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