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I'm looking to write some music in the vein of a band I discovered recently called Icarus The Owl, who use some pretty wacky time signatures (anything from 21/16 into weirder territories) but always manage to retain catchy hooks and vocals.

I'm wondering if there's a trick to getting this right, I've attempted it in the past and find that if I wander beyond fives or sevens it gets VERY convoluted. My trouble seems to emanate from trying to retain the pulse of the song, particularly with cymbals.

I'm by no means a jazz expert, but I'd love to see relevant information or tips regarding any style of music at all, not just this kind of post-hardcore'y pop-punk'y stuff!

Here's an example of what I'm looking at, from what I've gleaned it begins in 17/16 then moves into 9/8, and later into 3/4 and 4/4.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The way this band is approaching odd times is by adding the remainder to some kind of easily digestible time signature.

In terms of 17/16, they're playing it like 4/4, but adding one sixteenth to the end of the beat. The 9/8 thing is the same as adding an extra 8th note to the end of a 4/4 bar.

This way you get the rhythm of 4/4 then they create tension at the end of the bar or phrase by adding the extra note(s), which only momentarily disrupts the perceived meter.

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I'm not a songwriter, but I would say: Study the music of the Canadian hard rock band Rush. They have a long-recognized knack for writing songs with many odd meter changes but making it all sound natural and not overly-complex to the listener. This is a rare skill.

On the softer side, the same can be said about the very successful pop and film composer Burt Bacharach (he is 84 years old; his heyday was in the 1960s). He does not use frequent odd-time meter changes, but most of his songs have a few odd measures in inconspicuous places. These are not obtrusive to the listener, but they can be quite challenging for musicians to play correctly.

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These are both good examples, but Burt Bacharach can sometimes take time signature change to quite difficult levels. I am thinking of "What's New Pussycat" in which I CANNOT stay on the beat. A rockier song that has a well-integrated odd time signature would be Metallica's "Sanitarium". It is either 4/4 + 4/4 + 2/4 or as I prefer to count it: 10/4. –  Mike Feb 10 at 2:01

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