I am trying to write down some music that I've made and I have this problem: some parts require a change in time signature in order the phrase to fit, just for one or two measures. It can go from 4/4 to 5/4 or 3/4 and back again. Is this common or am I writing irrational music? Any thoughts are welcomed.

It is music for one guitar, no beat.

  • What do you mean by "irrational"? What exactly are you concerned about? When you perform the music, do you like how it sounds? Are you particularly concerned about expressing a particular rhythm? Commented May 2, 2022 at 1:16
  • Yes I like the way it sounds but I am concerned if someone try to reproduce it from sheet if he will be able to do it
    – tool
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 11:01
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    This is why I made the original question, to help me figure out how to fit the sheet music rules to the actual music not the other way around. My objective is artistic creation written properly so other people can play it
    – tool
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 12:54
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    Ah, so your question is not about whether or not the music as you've written is "proper" in any artistic sense, but whether your decision to notate it as a one-measure time signature change is idiomatic, or whether there might perhaps be a more natural way to notate the same phrase? In other words, this question is strictly about how to notate the musical phrase you have written?
    – J...
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 15:52
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    Yes, my question is about how to notate a piece of music that i have made without compromise it in favor of rules. It has a pattern, the bottom /4 doesn't change but the length of the measure, the upper 4/ changes, that's the way the song is written. It's a world music type, very few of that kind have ever be written, I don't know any examples, that's why i need to ask more knowledgeable than me
    – tool
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 20:16

4 Answers 4


It is very acceptable. There is plenty of music out there that changes time signatures very quickly in a very short amount of time. For instance, Stravinsky's Rite of Spring has some passages in which the time signature changes every measure, and not just from 4/4 to 5/5 to 3/4 to 4/4--sometimes it is 2/16 to 3/8 to 3/4, and such chaotic shifts like this.

I wouldn't be too worried about it, so long as your phrases and melodies don't sound too 'jolting'--unless that's the intent you have.

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    It is also relevant to note that many much music that does note explicitly change time signatures does change change it experientially. Much of classical music feature brief time signature changes that are clearly audible but are not, nonetheless, notated. Commented May 1, 2022 at 14:32
  • Thanks for the answer it motivates me to keep going
    – tool
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 15:43
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    Some people might argue that Stravinsky did not use the right tool when he wrote those time signatures, though: that the whole thing should be approached from something based on additive meter. But, I definitely agree that a single odd measure isn't anything to worry about at all. Commented May 2, 2022 at 7:39
  • @FelipeMartins Are you talking about brief, un-notated changes of the length and/or stress of beats (which would be perfectly normal in many types of music), or of their number (which I don't think would)?
    – gidds
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 9:52
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    For a less "chaotic" example than Rite of Spring, see Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, specifically the Promenade sections, which bounce around between 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, and 7/4, and yet still sound like a regular, stately march. You barely even notice that it's changing meter almost every measure when just casually listening. Commented May 2, 2022 at 15:34

You said "no beat" so are you forcing it into a specific time signature?

Sounds to me like you're writing in Free Time or Unmetered Time
This would free you from picking a time signature at any point (pun not intended)

There is no requirement to have a time signature if your piece doesn't suit one, however it may help a future reader to comprehend the sheet music. You can annotate it "rhythm without beat" which means to not accent the first note of a bar.

Free time can use stave lines to delineate a measure, regardless of length. You can still have a tempo to indicate a speed too.

Related: Free time in music

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    No beat I mean no percussion instruments or something to give me the measure, I have beat, the bottom is /4. Very interesting information about the free time, I had no idea
    – tool
    Commented May 2, 2022 at 10:37

It depends if that is what you mean or not :)

There is no such thing as 'irrational' music - just music you like and music you don't. The question is really about what's easiest to read. You could try using a piano roll editor to define exactly what you mean to play by ear, and then see how the DAW software interprets what you have written given different signature descriptions. This won't tell you what's 'right' or 'wrong', but it may help to 'find' a simpler way of writing what you mean.

If it's going to be really difficult to read and accuracy matters to you, provide an 'unsung' lyric that defines the rhythm: Drummers learn complex patterns this way.


It's not that common, but it's not unacceptable either. The first beat of any bar, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4 etc., is usually the most emphasised - if that feel doesn't come across, maybe the time signature isn't correct.

So, yes, change the time signature for one bar, or two, as that's the way most 'irrational' music gets written. You could stick to say, 4/4 and write accents over the notes that would otherwise become 1st beats in new bars - that is another ploy used by some composers - but then you must be aware that the first beats will still have emphases. Probably best to change time signatures, and write emphases as and when needed as well. Also be aware that if the 'beat' continues in rhythm, the bottom 4 will reflect that.

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    Thanks for the information, the bottom 4 remains, it is the length of the measure that changes, this need time to sink
    – tool
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 15:50

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