The song is very popular and has been notated countless times, in all possible ways. What note values and time signature should be used to notate the music?

The main six note guitar pattern:

First 6 notes of the song with no durations specified

seems to represent the rhythm followed through the whole song. There is a single exception in at the beginning of the guitar intro, where 3 extra notes are added once – I think this can be disregarded. Maybe the time signature changes for a single measure there.

Does the main motif use eighth-notes or quarter-notes?

6/8 vs 6/4 example

To me, eighth-notes would suggest a faster tempo. Moreover, the vocal melody uses twice shorter durations. I'm used to quarter-notes and eighth-notes being the typical building blocks of the vocal melodies (rather than eighth-notes and sixteenth-notes) – but maybe that's wrong way to think of it?

Is the main motif a single measure, or two measures?

6/4 vs 3/4 example

Through the whole song, there are strong accents on the first and the fourth note of the pattern, making me want to split it in two measures. However, the two halves are strongly tied to each other. In particular the drums play the kick with the first guitar note and a snare with the fourth, which in turn suggests the motif is a single measure.

In the internet, one can already find many different answers to this question. Therefore, I'm looking for answers supported with good quality reference examples of similar music or notation guidelines.

If you believe the answer is "it doesn't matter", I'm also requesting to provide evidence how similar music was notated in different ways.

I'm also aware that Metallica released an official transcription of the songs from Black Album, and it seemed well-prepared to me. However, I think it's more interesting to compare the song with examples of other similar music.

  • 2
    Does this answer your question? Confusion with identifying the bottom number of the time signature of a song by ear Commented Apr 3 at 10:34
  • @AndyBonner it kind of does. Making "it doesn't matter" the answer I'm looking for. Commented Apr 3 at 10:41
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    I have a strong but not so popular opinion that in rock, the time signature is explicit in the drum part. For example, the vast majority of the time, the hi hat indicates eighth notes. Perhaps that will help you feel the pulse of “Nothing Else Matters”. Commented Apr 3 at 11:19
  • I picked that one as a proposed duplicate, but there are a lot of others on the topic; try searching “time signature” Commented Apr 3 at 11:31
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    Man, this makes me want to expand my answer to my proposed duplicate. Because there is more to it than "Do whatever the hell you want." If we hear a series of notes, once they get above a certain speed we're inclined to view them not as individual pulses but as subdivisions of a slower pulse, and similarly if they get slow enough we perceive them as notes containing multiple pulses. This is clearest when we decide how to conduct them, so I suspect it stems from some kind of kinesthetic/proprioceptive sense. Commented Apr 3 at 16:50

1 Answer 1


I prefer 6/8, the most used metric for binary compound time. The bottom number could be 2,4,8,16 et cetera, and you still could read this perfectly. But 6/8 is most habitual.

Through the whole song, there are strong accents on the first and the fourth note of the pattern, making me want to split it in two measures.

This is a binary feeling. If you listen carefully, note 4 is weaker than note 1, but stronger than all others. But, my friend, metric (at least in music) is an idea - and a very malleable one. You could write this in 3/4 or even 3/8 with an accent on beat 1 every two measures without "ruining" the song. But, again, I prefer write this in 6/8 - it's clearer, easier to read and communicate the right metric feeling for the player.

Now, a little rant about official transcriptions: they suck! I researched Dream Theater for my master's degree, and basically needed to re-transcribe all the parts from the chosen songs (6 songs from SFAM) due to controversies and discrepancies on official transcriptions for guitar, bass and keys. It was an almost endless nightmare.

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    6/8 or maybe 12/8 is also suggested by the drum part. Often rock drums have hats on 1/8 notes, kick on downbeats and snare on weaker beats. Lars Ulrich’s drum patterns in this song are commonly used for 6/8 and 12/8 meters. Commented Apr 3 at 15:04

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