I'm trying to learn about time signatures.

I'm pretty sure I've correctly identified the "colored" ones in the attached image, but cannot find any info on the web on the non-colored ones.

Could someone help with these please?

time signature diagram

  • There aren't any colours here. Do you mean the time signatures you've put names to? In that case - what does 'Odd' mean?
    – Peter
    Oct 1, 2021 at 16:00
  • 2
    I think 'odd' and 'irregular' were invented by people who had difficulty counting in anything but 2s and 3s.
    – Peter
    Oct 1, 2021 at 16:20
  • 2
    Be aware that some of the less common time signatures don't necessarily have to be 'regular', even if the top number can be divided equally. 15/8 may well be 5x3, but some composer may decide it was to be divided, for example, into 3+3+3+2+2+2, to fit with the emphases within the bars.
    – Tim
    Oct 1, 2021 at 19:09
  • 1
    8/8 is an odd time signature usually [3+3+2] Oct 1, 2021 at 19:39
  • 1
    8/8 can also be [3+2+3]. 9/8 can be [3+2+2+2] (permute as required). Modern rhythms don't fit into the neat little categories beloved of 19th century pedants.
    – Peter
    Oct 2, 2021 at 9:31

1 Answer 1


Some time signatures have been given names - you've identified them correctly so no problem. Others don't have specific names, but you can still use them when composing if the music goes that way. You haven't said why you need to know the names. Personally I've never bothered with the names since I stopped taking theory exams, and I thought them a waste of time even then.

The numerator defines the number of beats in the bar, the denominator defines the note-length used for each beat (you probably know all this). So 3/4 means 3 beats of quarter-notes (crotchets in English!) and is fairly common so was given a name. 13/8 means 13 notes of eighth-notes (quavers) but was rare so wasn't given a name.

Don't forget that the names are fairly old, and come from a time when even 5/4 was regarded as highly dangerous. Nowadays it's pretty normal.

  • It's not so much the names, but how they will be beamed. For example would 16 eighth notes (in 8/4 time) be beamed as 4 groups of 4 notes, or 2 groups of 8 notes?
    – mms
    Oct 1, 2021 at 16:39
  • 5
    The numerator doesn’t always tell you the number of beats in a bar. For example, 12/8 time has four beats per bar. Oct 1, 2021 at 17:59
  • @ToddWilcox True - I was being too simplistic. I have to say that outside a classroom I've never heard any of the 'official' names used.
    – Peter
    Oct 2, 2021 at 9:31

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