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In the below screenshot, we can see that there are 1/16th notes written as 4 groups of 4 1/16th notes.

What difference does it make if it is written as 16/16, does it change the feel of the song, or will it affect how the drums are played?

How will I notate 16/16 on the tab?

Edit: this song is called Wax Wings by Periphery. Timestamp: 3:03 to 3:14

A small part of the tab for Wax Wings by Periphery - songsterr.com

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  • Could that repeat bar be 3/4 with triplet semis? 4/4 is far more common (and an easier read) than 16/16. Maybe the music program won't write things as wanted?
    – Tim
    Sep 30, 2023 at 10:39
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    @Tim if it were 3/4 with triplets the notes in that bar would be played faster than the 16ths before it. Oct 6, 2023 at 18:51

2 Answers 2

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A time signature is not meant to contain the smallest denominator of a piece. It is meant to establish a beat or pulse which can then be broken down into smaller groups of notes but still preserve that pulse in the music. The pulse should be logical and easy to count and feel.

Time signature numerator: number of beats per measure

Time signature denominator: the type of note that is one beat

4/4 is four quarter notes per bar. A quarter note is one beat. Playing 16ths in 4/4 is not complicated, you count to 4 and play 4 notes per count, 1e+a 2e+a, etc.

16/16 is a legitimate time signature but it is extremely impractical. It means that every note is a beat so you have to count 1,2,3,…16 in every bar. By using 4/4 you have a reasonably low common denominator that makes it easy to count and feel the beat.

The 9/16 bar is a different story. You cannot use a smaller denominator than 16 if you want to have nine 16th notes in a bar. Otherwise the time signature would be something like 4.5/8 which just is not logical. The solution is to use 9/16 but group the notes in 3’s. In general time signatures with a top number that is a multiple of 3 are grouped in 3’s, i.e. 6/8, 12/8. A group of three 16ths becomes the pulse or beat for this bar. Counting would be something like ONE-2-3-TWO-2-3-THREE-2-3.

If you look at your tab you will see that in the 4/4 bars the 16ths are grouped into fours and in the 9/8 bar they are grouped into threes. Those groups are the beats. You end up going from a beat or pulse of four 16ths to a beat of three 16ths when you reach the 9/16 bar. I would also like to point out that the 16th notes are constant from one time signature to another, which means they all have exactly the same duration.

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    Seeing as it is a compound meter, 9/16 should really be written as 3 / 16/3 or 3 / 5 1/3. But who the heck wants to read those?
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 8, 2023 at 5:08
  • @Dekkadeci Good point I must say. What does a 5 1/3 note look like by the way? Oct 8, 2023 at 6:14
  • Remove the top number of the time signature and replace it with a 1 and you have the fraction of a whole note each "base note" of the time signature has. A 1/4 note looks like a quarter note. A 5 1/3 note, a.k.a. a 16/3 note, looks like 3 16th notes stuck together, a.k.a. a dotted 8th note. For irrational time signatures, a 1/3 note looks like one member note of a half-note triplet.
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 8, 2023 at 8:30
  • Thanks for this explanation. Sometimes, it feels like time signature can be arbitrary. Lets say I do not know about how the writer chose to structure it, I can choose my pulse (my 1/4th note) to be an 1/8th beat in the actual song. That would change the tempo value as well. What is the true measurement? Oct 25, 2023 at 5:44
  • @NiranjanDixit If you are writing out a piece of music, whether your own or someone else’s you want to try to represent it as accurately and logically as possible. A piece of music can be written out accurately using quarters, eighths, etc as the beat. Four quarter notes sound the same as four eighth notes if they are played at the same tempo per note. There is no true measurement unless the composer writes out his own music and establishes what that should be for their piece. Oct 25, 2023 at 6:56
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Meters imply a rhythmic substructure that is generally accepted by convention and usually also affects the choices of where note beams start and end. A 16/x meter has no such established convention.

A 4/4 meter has four beats, the main accent on the first beat and a secondary accent on the third beat. The on-beat notes start on-time, off-beat note starts are somewhat more pliable.

A 9/16 meter has three groups of 3 notes, with an accent on the first group. It is almost but not quite indistinguishable from triplets in a 3/4 meter: in the 3/4 meter there is a bit of pliability on the placement of second and third beat (they can expose a tendency to be slightly later than a rigid meter would demand) while 9/16 enforces a more even subdivision.

Also when switching between 4/4 and 9/16, it would be customary to retain the length of one 1/16 note (there may be a notice 𝅘𝅥𝅯=𝅘𝅥𝅯 over the start of the bar where the meter change happens).

All of this is not per se logical but hand-wavy convention that partially came about in the context of dance meters and/or speech meters.

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