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I wrote a melody. I have trouble figuring out which time signature it belongs to. I tried different rhythms, this rhythm sounds the best. It is safe to say, this is the rhythm of this melody. But this rhythm does not fit any time signature. I put accent marks on the accented notes. 3/4 pattern is strong, weak, weak. 4/4 pattern is strong, weak, less strong, weak. In both time signatures, the accented notes don’t always fall on the strong beats. The only solution is to change the rhythm to match the strong beats, but that is no longer the correct rhythm for the melody.

How can I indicate meter for this melody?

(Please forget the fact that I wrote it in 3/4 time signature. Because I have to choose a time signature to start with.)

Melody with accents to denote stronger pulses

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    Why the close votes? It's a practical problem that can and does occur in music.
    – Tim
    Jul 11 at 8:58
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    Voted to reopen. This question involves neither "transcribing or finding a song" and does involve analysis of a "well-defined subsection, including a concrete reference".
    – Aaron
    Jul 11 at 12:02
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    “…including identifying … time signatures…” Seems really clear to me. Also “rarely useful to future readers”. Figuring out this particular bit of music for the asker does not add to a body of knowledge that is generally useful in understanding music theory or practice. An equally good close reason IMHO is “opinion based”. This falls under “how should I write music” which is one of the most personal and subjective things I think we can do as musicians. Jul 11 at 15:32
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    @ToddWilcox The spirit of the close reason is that we don't want questions about the time signature of a YouTube video. It is not intended to apply to clearly notated music. And the fundamental question is how to notate music in which a single, consistent time signature doesn't apply. This is both applicable and useful to future askers. Editing the question to clarify its purpose would be more helpful than closing it. I suspect it's a duplicate, but I haven't found an original to reference against.
    – Aaron
    Jul 11 at 15:51
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    Given the transposed motif between Bars 2-4 and Bars 6-8, keeping the time signature as 3/4 actually does seem like a sensible option. (...One of multiple options, though, which is why I don't feel confident enough to answer.) Keeping the time signature as 3/4 would be in line with how syncopated dances like furiants are notated.
    – Dekkadeci
    Jul 11 at 16:08
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Time signatures are meant for music that has a regular pattern of accents.

Some music does not have a regular pattern of accents. There are two possible solutions to this.

One is the one Stravinsky used for The Rite of Spring, which is to write everything in a basically arbitrary time signature (he used 2/4) and write in all the accents.

The other, probably a bit more common, is illustrated for example by several of the movements in Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time. There is no time signature and every measure has a different number of beats, with the beaming and where the bar lines are indicating what the strong and weak beats are. If the time signature changes but not constantly, one can also have changing time signatures.

(There is a reason why Stravinsky chose to put everything in 2/4 - The Rite of Spring is a ballet and the constant time signature is easier for the dancers, as they keep dancing in 2/4 even though the accents shift.)

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  • My copy of The Rite of Spring has plenty of time signature changes Jul 11 at 1:40
  • @ElementsinSpace: Yes there are time signature changes, but not nearly as many as there would be if the bar lines were to follow the accents. For example, in the section "The Augurs of Spring; Dances of the Young Girls", the accents keep shifting but it is all written in 2/4 Jul 11 at 2:30
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In addition to @AlexanderWoo's suggestions, it's also possible to change time signatures within a piece.

As a starting point, let's assume all the marked accents are "beat 1". A literal transcription, then, would be

X: 1
T: Melody time signature
T: Example 1
K: A minor
L: 1/4
M: 2/4
E' A | [M: 3/4] B/2C'/2 D' C' | B C' A | [M: 1/4] B/2G/2 | [M: 3/4] A3 |
[M: 2/4] A D | [M: 3/4] E/2F/2 G F | E F D | E/2F/2 G E | [M: 4/4] A4 |]

Another possibility emerges if a syncopation is permitted in the fourth measure and if the last note can be of arbitrary length. In that case, a pattern of 2+3+3+4 emerges.

X: 1
T: Melody time signature
T: Example 2
K: A minor
L: 1/4
M: 2/4
E' A | [M: 3/4] B/2C'/2 D' C' | B C' A | [M: 4/4] B/2G/2 !>!A3 |
[M: 2/4] A D | [M: 3/4] E/2F/2 G F | E F D | [M: 4/4] E/2F/2 G E !fermata!A |]

This could also be written in the following way.1

X: 1
T: Melody time signature
T: Example 3
K: A minor
L: 1/4
M: 2+3+3+4/4
E' A | B/2C'/2 D' C' | B C' A | B/2G/2 !>!A3 |
A D | E/2F/2 G F | E F D | E/2F/2 G E !fermata!A |]

A time signature of 5+3+4/4 would also work, if the 2/4 accent is primary and the following 3/4 accent is secondary.

Closer to @AndrewWoo's suggestions, a larger number of beats could be specified, with dotted bar lines used to indicate the strong-weak pulse divisions.

Melody time signature example 4


1 A bug in ABCjs, the code used to create these examples, causes the lower number in the time signature to be written at the left. It should be centered.

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  • Thanks for the answer. If this is the solution, then how do listeners follow the music with constant changing time signatures?
    – Yi Ming
    Jul 11 at 19:43
  • @YiMing Listeners hear the pulse of music whether or not they recognize it as regular or not. The music examples Alexander Woo gave would be good to listen to as a way to begin to understand how it works.
    – Aaron
    Jul 11 at 19:49

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