I wonder why haven't I heard songs that have 13 beats or 11 beats (or may be 17 beats or other complex number) per measure.

Are there any songs like that and why don't people and music directors create songs like that?

Is there any rules not to create songs like that, or they don't want songs to be too complex?

I have heard songs up to 7 beats though.

  • 2
    Listen to some Greek music. 13 is not unusual, but it gets split into 3,3,3,4. So you get used to the 123,123,123, and then there's 1234! Before the count starts again. Shev., help me!
    – Tim
    Jul 18, 2015 at 8:50
  • Genesis are fairly well know for this sort of thing. While searching for more information I came across this great list -> en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . some of the time sigs in there are beyond my simple understanding. what the heck is 3/5/4 ????? Jul 18, 2015 at 9:34
  • 2
    A rather famous example - the first 5 minutes or so of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells could be considered to be in 15/8; though I tend to think of it as alternating 7/8 8/8 bars.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 18, 2015 at 16:41
  • hey Tetsujin, isn't that song 4 beats?! (I guess...) That doesn't seem to have 15 beats or so..(or am I wrong?) Jul 18, 2015 at 17:10
  • 1
    A very well-known song that dips a toe in these waters is the Beatles’ Here comes the sun, whose bridge passage (starting here) follows a repeating three-measure pattern of 11/8 + 4/4 + 7/8. For getting oriented: “sun, sun, sun, here we” picks out the beats of the 11/8 measure (divided as 3+3+3+2), with “come” arriving on the start of the 4/4 bar.
    – PLL
    Nov 24, 2015 at 16:20

5 Answers 5


They exist. You may not know where to look for them.

Odd-time signatures (rhythms in 5, 7, 11, 13, etc.) are common in certain cultures. Odd-time signature songs and dances can be readily found in folk music from places like Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey, and other nations in that geographic region, going back to antiquity.

The use of odd-time meters and frequently-changing meters in classical music was firmly established in the early 1900s, with composers like Igor Stravinsky and Béla Bartók.

In the USA and England and in the West, there has been a lot of music written in odd time signatures since the 1960s, in the styles of what we refer to as progressive rock, or progressive metal, which make use of odd time signatures for sections of the song.

A famous example is the 1968 piece by the Allman Brothers called "Whipping Post", whose main riff is in 11/8 time.

In progressive rock songs, there may be several different time signatures used in the same song, changing frequently. The band Rush is known for this, as are Genesis, Yes and King Crimson.

The main sections of the international hit song "Turn It On Again" by Genesis is in 13/8.

In the Yes song "Siberian Khatru", the introduction is in alternating measures of 8/8 and 7/8, creating the feel of a 15/8 time signature.

Peter Gabriel had a big hit in the 1970s with the song "Solsbury Hill" which is almost entirely in 7/4 time.


You don't have to go that far

Pat Metheny: Au Lait (from the Album OFFRAMP) written by Lyle Mays

Or LIVE at 8:20 min in

Lean back and enjoy!

Wanna know how that looks on paper...



Check out the Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Christmas album. Lots of odd rhythms, but particularly the Twelve Days of Christmas. They play each day in that numbered time signature. Extremely creative.

Twelve Days of Christmas


In addition to @dwilli, indian classical music and also the bollywood music have songs that are based on 12 beats(Ektaal),16 beats(teentaal),10 beats(Jhaptaal) etc.


Maybe not all that much in 'songs', except where someone's being consciously experimental. But in the big, wide world of music, it happens.

Sticking to mainstream Western music for the time being...

Anything over 4 beats in a bar generally groups into cells of 2 or 3 though. 'Take Five' is 2+3. Sticking with Brubeck, 'Unsquare Dance' written in 7/4, is really three beats to the bar, a 2-group, another 2-group and a 3-group (yes, beats can be different lengths!)

The only example that comes to mind of an ungrouped 7/4 is the end of Stravinsky's 'Firebird' which is a solid '7 on the floor'. Listen from 44'30" (or better from 43'00", or better still the whole thing, it's magic!)

Going into higher numbers, it's just about guaranteed that a 10/8 or 13/8 (etc.) bar will fall into sub-groups. Sometimes regular, sometimes irregular.

Then there's the even bigger wide world of non-Western music...

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