Assuming no other instruments (such as drums, in particular) are providing any clues about the time signature, would the following bass line be heard by people as 5/4 or 4/4 (all quarter notes, all same volume):

G A A A A G A A A A G A A A A G G A A A :

IOW, would it be heard as:

bass line presented in groups of 4 and 5 ?

Does it depend on what the listener is accustomed to hearing (the time signature is in the ear of the beharker)? IOW, would most people hear it as 4/4?

  • 3
    I have voted to reopen. This isn't a matter of opinion. The change in pitch will be perceived as an accent. It's the same principle used by metronomes that use a different pitch for the downbeat than on the other beats.
    – Aaron
    Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 19:35
  • 1
    @Aaron - I've heard pieces in the Musescore website that my brain has interpreted as being in 3/4 time and 6/8 time depending on what I'm thinking of the piece at the time, so yes, it is opinion-based (those were real music with real running 8ths for melody and accompaniment, so pitch changes matter surprisingly little).
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 20:09
  • 1
    Voted to reopen for the reasons stated by @Aaron - though one clarification: I am assuming you also mean that the bass instrument itself isn't accenting the notes differently or providing other cues either. Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 22:33
  • 1
    @Aaron - With audio that doesn't accent any notes on downbeats such as most Musescore-original pieces, the issue is always the same: whether every X notes or every Y notes should be grouped together beat-or measure-wise. With 3/4 vs. 6/8, it's every 2 vs. every 3. With 4/4 vs. 5/4, it's every 4 vs. every 5.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 23:28
  • 1
    @AndyBonner - If you were just listening to a 4/4 - or even 3/4! - piece before listening to the sample in the question, I don't think you can force the answer "in this case, certainly not" anymore.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 12:40

2 Answers 2


In the scenario described, it would be heard as 5/4. Because there are no other contextual clues, the G would stand out from the texture and be perceived as "accented" — not in the sense of volume, but in the sense of having attention called to it by virtue of being different from the otherwise static A.

  • Unexplained dv - again?
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 7:56
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    @Tim I didn't downvote without explaining, but I'm downvoting now because the question is too subjective to support such an absolute answer as this. Whether it is heard one way or another depends on the player and, much more to the point, on the hearer.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 17:19
  • @phoog - so if the question is too subjective, that's what needs dving, not any answer, surely? And, listeners receive more than hearers, don't they? But, all that apart - dvers should be expected to validate their dvs, as I keep harping on about...
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 19:45
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    @Tim the question is too subjective for this answer to be appropriate; it's not necessarily too subjective in an absolute sense. If you prefer, I could rephrase the critique: this answer is too absolute to be adequate for the subjective question at hand. Unfortunately, the people who designed SE decided early on that downvotes should not require justification, so people can and regularly do downvote without explanation. I find it vexing, but there's not much hope that it will ever change.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 20:24
  • 2
    I agree with @Aaron here. When I play it straight, without accents or additional context, I hear the pitch change at regular intervals as the 1. Even if I start on one of the A notes, I end up hearing the G as the 1.
    – wabisabied
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 0:06

In the absence of any emphasised notes, it's virtually impossible to say in reality.

The existence of that recurring G note, with the extra one towards the end would trend towards 5/4, with the added fact that that gives four lines to the music - a very common feature, against the five lines otherwise.

I'd really appreciate dv reasons - thanks!

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