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I used to feel "Modern Man" from "The Suburbs (2010)" by Arcade Fire had an interesting "beat skip effect". But now when I really count the beat, there are indeed missing beats. What is this feature called officially in music theory? Is this very rare or it is just I only notice them in this song?

Examples are around 8sec and 17sec of the song. (I have almost zero musical knowledge so I cannot even express the question in a professional way)

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    Regarding the "is it rare" part: depends on what you listen to. It is very rare in modern pop music and dance music; it was/ is a common element in 70s progressive rock (bands like Rush, Yes, Genesis, or Emerson, Lake & Palmer) and progressive metal (Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Haken...). – Richard Metzler Dec 10 '20 at 6:51
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    You might like The Stranglers, Golden Brown as an easy to understand example of the added beat. Mainly it's in 6/8 (or you can count it in threes) but then it adds one beat every other time round in the intros, making a 7/8 bar. The verses settle out to a simple 6/8 that feels a bit like a waltz. youtube.com/watch?v=AWAsI3U2EaE – Tetsujin Dec 10 '20 at 8:02
  • related - check out what Harry Connick Jr. did with the beats and an audience - youtube.com/watch?v=4hYYgz-AJKU – NKCampbell Dec 10 '20 at 17:01
  • This question is predicated on the idea that 4/4 is the only proper rhythm for music and everything else is ‘missing’ a beat. Classical, folk and jazz musics all provide countless examples to the contrary – Steve Mansfield Dec 11 '20 at 7:36
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What you're hearing I would consider as added beats rather than missing ones.

The general term for how beats are grouped is meter. Meter is the pattern of strong and weak pulses that underlie the music -- the places where you might clap along. All genres of Western music tend to have a regular meter throughout the piece; however, in more contemporary music ("contemporary" beginning around 1900), it is not unusual to find music that changes meter.

Changing meter is what happens in "Modern Man". The verses comprise two groups of nine beats followed by two groups of eight beats (or, if you prefer, four groups of four beats).

What makes this particularly challenging to hear is that they often leave out the usual/expected emphasis on the first beat of each grouping. Typically, beat 1 is given the strongest emphasis -- for example, at the start of the first verse. However, at the end of the first group of nine beats and the beginning of the second group of nine beats, no emphasis is given, which obscures the strong-weak pattern and makes the music more challenging to count.

The song would be described as "changing meters", but there is no specific term for the manner in which they do it here.

You might find David Bennett's video about songs that add a beat instructive.

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  • Good answer. But in regard to the 2nd paragraph "All genres of Western music tend to have a regular meter throughout the piece", prior to the 20th century there is a long history of changing meter (16th century: youtube.com/watch?v=2KSxg9Ij5r8) or no meter (e.g. Gregorian chant). – LarsH Dec 10 '20 at 14:54
  • @LarsH Examples in the classical era as well, e.g. Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) - the promenade sections change meter every measure in some parts - and use some weird ones too, 5/4, 7/4, etc. – Darrel Hoffman Dec 10 '20 at 20:21
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    @DarrelHoffman: Pictures at an Exhibition is hardly a typical example of “the classical era” — it was groundbreakingly modern for its time. Irregular or free meter was more widely used before around the 17th century (as in @ LarsH’s example), but through the common practice period was very rare a few quite narrow genres (e.g. some liturgical traditions). Composers rediscovered/reintroduced it starting in the late 19th century, with Mussorgsky and others in the Mighty Handful among the pioneers in this. – PLL Dec 10 '20 at 23:13
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In general, I think it's just called "skipping a beat". Here I think you have a slightly different case of "adding a beat". The way I hear it, the song is mostly 4/4 with a few interjected 5/4 measures, or you could consider it to be interjections of a 1/4 measure (whenever he sings "Modern").

David Bennett has a few videos that explore these kinds of songs: Songs That Skip a Beat, Songs That Add a Beat.

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  • Interesting that within 2 minutes, both you and Aaron both answered, and both gave a link to videos by the same guy (David Bennett). Why is that? – user1271772 Dec 12 '20 at 6:37
  • Just a coincidence, I think, but we did notice and remark about it – luser droog Dec 12 '20 at 7:33

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