I found this piece of music that has an odd time signature. I unfortunately do not have the music with me, but the time signature looks like this:


I have been playing this as 9/8, but am still confused as what this means. Can somebody please help me? If I can get a picture of the sheet music, I will upload it.

  • 1
    Could it be Sting's "I Hung My Head"? That's a well-known pop example of this particular composite meter.
    – Theodore
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 19:45
  • It was not, but I will go take a look at that song. If I remember correctly it was Balkan music Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 20:58
  • My next guess was going to be Romanian or Moldovan folk music.
    – Theodore
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 21:03
  • 1
    You should play it exactly as instructed, as 2+2+3+2, with the accents on the 1 of each number. Playing it in 9/8, i.e. in triplets, is a clear violation of the composer's intent.
    – user207421
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 23:31

3 Answers 3


It is 9/8, BUT the 'normal' 9/8 is three sets of three quavers - thus the bottom number of 8.

2+2+3+2 also equals 9, and it's written that way so the player can understand what the composer wants as far as emphases are concerned, not the usual 123223323, (or 123456789), but instead, 123456789.

Just a different way to put emphases on certain beats within the bar, and a better way to show than changing the time signature every couple of bars!


It means 9/8, but the eighths are grouped 2, 2, 3 and 2 (instead of the standard 3+3+3). It could theoretically have been written as alternate bars of 2/4 and 5/8.
Often this kind of additive time signature is superfluous: the beaming usually shows the rhythmic subdivision.

  • That might be interpreted as the 5/8 12-345 instead of the expected 123-45.
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 16:33
  • @Tim I don't think I've ever seen 5/8 where the subdivision mattered and wasn't clear from the beaming
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 16:53
  • 1
    @PiedPiper I've played some new work where it constantly but unpredictably switched the subdivision of 7 back and forth (4 + 3, 3 + 4, 2 + 3 + 2), and tried to indicate it with symbols like triangles and squares. (Or maybe I'm just remembering drawing them into my part to keep track of Copland's El Salón México...) Commented Mar 14, 2022 at 17:32

It means that each bar (measure) has 9 quavers (eighth-notes) divided into four beats of 2,2,3,2 quavers. Sounds fun.

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