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What methods can I use to find the time signatures of strange/complex songs?

For example, what are the time signature(s) this song uses?

One of the stranger parts starts at 2:44, when the pattern counts:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 | 1 2 3 4 5 6

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 | 1 2 3 4 5

The singer even counts along later in the song.

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I have cleaned up the comments here; please take it to Meta. It is disappointing to see active users yet again decide to flood a new user's posts with over-the-top arguments and accusations, when they know perfectly well that this is not the place for it. Fat Joe, welcome to the site, and my apologies for the comment storm. – Matthew Read Jul 30 '14 at 0:12

It looks like they first came up with lyrics and they stretched out the barline to fit the lyrics in a stylistic way.

Messing around with the meter is a term that I heard more than once in the studio lingo hence I think that's what they did. The key point is that the time signature is required to put things down. The band members might have internal identifiers for this piece and only when you are writing this down you need explicit numbers.

Example, there is a well known bar that we call it a possum (due to it's pronunciation and due to many open hihat tricks in the lick). So if I say "after this play two possum" then other guys know exactly what I mean and guitar player never counts. However if somebody would replace me or the guitar player they need to write down and analyze under scrutiny. Long story short it is exactly what you wrote down.

The usual trick to find the beat is to follow the bass line and see if the drummer matches the repeating pattern in any kind of accenting pattern. It's not very common to miss beat 1 so that helps you to pivot it. You can come up with other ambiguous patterns that violates that but 9 out of 10 cases bass gives away the count in the contemporary music.

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This could be a compound tempo. Assuming the last bars are correctly written (see my question in comment) than for the first line you would have:

6/8+1/4 | 9/8 | 6/8+1/4 | 6/8,

and for the second line you would have:

6/8+1/4 | 9/8 | 6/8+1/4 | 3/8+1/4

How to find this from the piece itself? Well you either have a very good sense of rhythm and you can feel it or, the easy way out, you buy the sheet music and check it there. ;-)


Ok. After listening to the piece I believe this is just a funky tempo that sounds more like a: 8/4 | 9/4 | 8/4 | 6/4 | 8/4 | 9/4 | 8/4 | 5/4 than like the ternary-binary compound that I first suggested. Probably this was indeed done to fit the lyrics as suggested by user percurse in his answer.

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To count out complex time signatures you need to figure out what part is repeating. For eg. in your case if the same thing repeats after what you have specified then the time signature at that point of the song would be 8+9+8+6+8+9+8+5/8 = 61/8 or 61/4 (whatever the case may be).

Also different parts of a song can have different time signatures.

But you can always consider the song to be made up of various time signatures i.e. 8/8, 9/8, 8/8, 6/8, 8/8, 9/8, 8/8, 5/8.

I'm an avid Progressive Metal listener which involves complex time signatures and a combination of the same. I use the above mentioned method.

Regards Jimmy

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Listening to the consistent beat, I don't hear anything other than 4/4!

| ; 2 3 4 | 5 6 7 8 | ; 2 3 4 | 5 6 7 8 | 9_9 ; 2 | 3 4 5 6 | 7 8 1 2 | 3 4 5 6 |

I think the lyric might be throwing you off. Kind of like a stroop effect for the ears.

When he sing's "9", it occupies two beats, that is why he cannot sing "7 8" at the end (because he's still in 4/4 time and there's no time left).

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9 occupies two beats because it is occupying the first beat in the next measure which is my he starts counting from 2. – Cornbeetle Jul 31 '14 at 18:15
@cornbeetle the first two beats? Dunno if anybody can say why he starts counting at 2, they're just lyrics! – Lee Kowalkowski Jul 31 '14 at 19:12

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