Is it frowned upon to have a short segment of a song, perhaps only one measure, to be in a different time signature? Does the level of frownage vary by style?

Background: I'm working on a classical piece for guitar, recorder and cello. It is in common time, but I needed to slip in a 6/4 measure for the melody I wanted. I am unable to be more specific on the style of the piece I'm working on, as I'm just starting out learning to compose and am spending some time writing and some time reading each day.

  • 1
    Would the 6/4 would better as two 3/4 measures? Also, see my comment to the answer below. – jjmusicnotes Sep 23 '14 at 3:38
  • I'll see if I can do two 3/4 measures, but I did try to go back and add a half rest to see how it sounded and learned that my inexperience with the notation software I'm using (Rosegarden) prevents me from easily inserting a measure. My thought now is that the section works and it is time to move on to the rest of the piece. In the future I'll also consider squeaking in a 2/4 measure to preserve beat structure. – Mark Kosmowski Sep 23 '14 at 5:13
  • 'Frownage', nice. I commend to you UFO Tofu by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: a short piece with over a hundred changes of time signature. It's hard to frown when your jaw is on the floor. – Areel Xocha Aug 27 '17 at 23:01

No, not really, though it's not terribly common in some styles. I'd say it's relatively rare in Baroque music, for example (or at least it's not notated as such when it does occur, e.g. cadential hemiolas...). OTOH, it's often necessary when transcribing earlier music, due to the later's lack of meter. I think it may have become more acceptable again sometime in the Romantic era. I've also seen a few hymns that switch meter, either between verse and chorus, or for one or two measures (for example, as an explicitly-notated fermata).

It might be briefly frowned on by the musician who has to count it while sight-reading it for the first time, but if the melody makes sense in context, it won't be that big a deal. If you think, for example, of "The Twelve Days of Christmas", it's in 4/4 at the "Five golden rings", then it switches to 3/4 for two bars: "four calling birds, three French hens" then it's back to 4/4 for "two turtle doves and a...".

  • 1
    I do see your points, but I'm definitely of the mindset: "suck it up and learn to read". – jjmusicnotes Sep 23 '14 at 3:37
  • 1
    Oh, absolutely. The main thrust of my answer from the first sentence is "No, it's not really frowned upon." – Caleb Hines Sep 23 '14 at 4:00
  • 1
    agreed; my only stipulation is that I think you should say "...though it's not terribly common in certain time periods...". Certainly most music written within the last 110 years or so contains many, many time signature changes. – jjmusicnotes Sep 23 '14 at 13:00
  • 1
    That's fair. I made an update or two. (Although by "most music" I think you're leaving out most pop/rock/jazz/blues/etc... which often doesn't change.) – Caleb Hines Sep 23 '14 at 13:20
  • yes, you are quite right. My comments / thoughts are usually made with respect to "classical" music only; including other genres by name as necessary. – jjmusicnotes Sep 24 '14 at 0:45

This is very common, even in the most standard pop tunes. You should check if it isn't actually one 4/4 bar plus one 2/4 bar (or the other way around). This latter case occurs most often.

  • It probably is a 4/4 + 2/4 or the other way round, but I am finding it troublesome to adjust, so I may just leave it. If nothing else I'll remember to think more next time this happens. – Mark Kosmowski Sep 23 '14 at 19:59

The main "problem" is that you usually have an intertwined rhythmic structure between instruments and a one-bar change in meter pretty much requires the instruments to move in lockstep.

That's a strong effect, but composition is not an accumulation of effects.

In film music, of course, this kind of thing is rather common, for pretty much the same reason...

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.