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This piece (We Can Still Stop Her by Michael Giacchino, Inside Out OST) has a strange beat. It seems 4/8 at first, but something isn't right: it takes 9 bars for the melody to repeat, but it's two repetitions of the melody. Does that mean that the piece is in a 18/8 beat instead? Or is it a simple 4/8 with occasional 2/8 bars inserted?

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I would interpret the beginning section as 9 beats of 2 quavers each arranged as alternating bars of 4/4 and 5/4. Writing it as 9/8 or 9/4 would imply three groups of three (triple time) which doesn't match the rhythm.

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Listening to it I'd have put it into 9 (or maybe 4+5 if 9 always means compound, and it definitely doesn't have a triplet feel). This puts it in 3/4: http://www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtd.asp?ppn=MN0153795

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  • Listening to it, I would have put in in 9/8 time, but three-bar phrases of 3/4 might be better than longer bars and lots of 16th-notes for an "easy to play and read" version. It's a bit deceptive, because the rhythm doesn't emerge very clearly on the youtube recording till about a minute into the track, and it's not obvious from the recording that it starts with a pickup beat rather than at the beginning of a bar. – user19146 Mar 17 '16 at 3:22
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Short answer

I would conduct this piece in 3/4, as that provides the simplest, consistent way of keeping the parts aligned.

Short of being able to examine the score, however, any analysis is speculative in the sense that we can't know the composer's intent.

Why 3/4?

3/4 vs. 9/8

  1. Pulse strength: In strict theory terms, in 3/4 every third beat (i.e., every downbeat) receives equal, primary emphasis; whereas, in 9/8, only every third, third beat (i.e., beat 1) receives primary emphasis, and the other two, third beats are only semi-strong.
S = strong
s = semi-strong
w = weak

3/4: 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
     S w w S w w S w w
     S w w s w w s w w
9/8: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Once the piece takes on a clear, regular triple feel (around 0:43), the downbeats feel equal, as in 3/4 time, rather than a strong downbeat followed by two weaker ones.

  1. Phrase lengths: Some parts of the piece comprise 6-beat segments, rather than 9. For example, the sustained string notes beginning at 1:31 are six beats each. So, too, are the sustained notes that close the piece. A 3-based meter is the better fit for these passages.

Okay, sure, the full orchestra sounds 3/4-ish, but what about the irregular metric pattern in the entire rest of the piece?!?!?!?!

Well, first of all, please don't abuse the punctuation marks.

The key here is that the opening features regular pulses, but the pulses themselves are undifferentiated. That is, they are not rhythmically accented. Rather, the melodic contour suggests accents, and the nature of the melody makes these accents irregular. The opening does make a good case for interpreting the piece as polymetric.

My case for 3/4 rests in part on there being multiple metric interpretations based on how the melody is perceived. To illustrate, I've chosen 9/2 to mitigate the conventional associations with 9/4 and 9/8, and I've placed the two perceived pulse patterns above and below the notes, respectively.

X:0
T:We Can Still Stop Her
T:Opening
C:Michael Giacchino
K:A minor
M:9/2
L:1/4
V:V1 clef=treble middle=b
"^>"A B [|: "^>"c A B c "^>"d A B d "^>"e d c B "^>"c A "^(>)"B ^G "^>"A B :|]
s: > ** > *** > *** > * > * > * >

In the first (upper) case, we would conclude either 4+4+4+4+2 or 4+4+4+2+2+2. In the other case, we would conclude 3+4+5+2+2+2.

The situation is clarified somewhat with the entrance at 0:07, which is clearly 8+10 (i.e., 4+5 with two pulses per beat).

However, these interpretations fall apart once the brass enters at 0:43. At this point, the piece becomes clearly 3/4.

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