# How can a 59/48 time signature be counted?

There is a song called Evol by Damian leGassick. Its time signature is 59/48. It is weird and I don't know which way to interpret it.

There are two ways this can be interpreted:

Number one

It can be interpreted as fifty-nine 48th notes, so exactly like it says. 48th notes mean, that there are 48 of those notes in a whole note. So since there is 48 of them in a whole note, there is 12 of them in a quarter note, 6 of them in an eighth note, or 3 of them in an sixteenth note. So in other words a 48th note is one third of a sixteenth note (one third of 32th note triplet), and there is 59 of those in each measure.

Number two

It can be broken down into a combination of two different time signatures by splitting the time signature into two parts. We can split it into 54/48 (which reduces into 9/8) and additional 5/48, which can be further split into 1/16 and additional 2/48 which reduces to 1/24 (which is a one third of a 16th note triplet). So in other words it can be interpreted as nine eighth note beats, additional sixteenth note beat, and additional one third of an eighth note which is one third of a sixteenth note triplet.

Which of those is more reasonable? And why would anyone write a song in a time signature like that at all?

• Answer to your last part - 'beats me...'. 59 is a prime number, so there is no easy count, unless you go in 5s, and count 4 for the last bit. But even 5s are usually counted broken into 3/2 or 2/3. I'd fall asleep before the first bar was completed!
– Tim
Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 17:33
• You can hear it here: youtube.com/watch?v=ifOMGtnUlIo. Unfortunately, this doesn't really help me know how to count it. It sounds like polymeter to me. Or at least polyrhythm. Commented Apr 24, 2016 at 18:01
• Some composers just don't know, as Gerry Mulligan said to Herb Alpert, "when to leave the bone alone." This is a self-adulating meter and nothing else. Commented Apr 25, 2016 at 11:08
• I suspect he just set the time signature on his sequencer to 59/48 as an interesting compositional constraint. Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 9:40
• @CarlWitthoft Ehh, it sounds "interesting" imo. Nothing wrong with making selfish music (though that's not the only reason to make music). Commented Jun 20, 2020 at 3:43

It can be interpreted not as 59/48, but as 5/4+9/8 (i.e. 19/8). Sometimes composers use two meters to express the "alternation" (1st beat has 1st time signature, 2nd has 2nd, 3rd has 1st again, 4th has 2nd etc.). These meters are usually written next to each other, without any space or plus sign (which creates such confusion). So I advise you to count actual note lengths in a bar, because 19/8 (=10/8 or 5/4 + 9/8) is easier to count than 59/48

• This seems much the most plausible answer, if we could only see the score and check. Writing two combined time signatures like this is quite common, and also has an obvious interpretation: 5/4 + 9/8 makes four crotchet beats and three dotted crotchet beats, which is a rhythm one could feel. (On the face of it, 59 of some sort of note that doesn't exist makes no sense at all.) Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 8:28

Each bar is a "gnat's crotchet"* shorter than 5/4, which would be 60/48. Simples!

• "Gnat's crotchet": a technical term much used by the late jazz trumpeter (and later BBC radio panel game host) Humphrey Lyttleton. Similar, but not quite identical to, a "midge's minim".
• ...But if I played this song at 1 beat per minute, that's a whole minute different from what you suggest. And don't even try telling me that tha's too hypothetical, we're discussing 59/48 as a time signature :) Commented Dec 3, 2018 at 5:40

You don’t count it. It’s a group of four eighth notes followed by a group of 5 faster notes (like triplets) followed by a group of 5 even faster notes (like 16ths). Sort of an accelerating 3/2. If you played exactly eighths then triplet eighths then 16ths that would indeed add up to 59/48. Icebreaker played the ‘triplets’ more like quintuplets and the ‘16ths’ more like 6:5 but it doesn’t really matter, so long as it has a good lurch. We never really figured out a helpful time signature that matched the way that I played the rhythm myself, so we just kept the most ridiculous. It’s actually not difficult to play. It’s only in the ‘three-note bass’ bits.

The 5:7 is also feel rather than count. The source rhythm is the ‘triplet’ orch-hit break in the middle of Yes ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ - listen closely and you’ll hear that it’s much closer to 5:7 (it starts precisely on the second eighth so can’t be a real triplet).

• Very cool of you to pop up to answer this! Commented Sep 11, 2020 at 4:53

Unless the composer has explicit instructions, I'd probably just take the song as un-metered. Take a sixteenth note as the unit time and use things as quarter notes or longer as just longer syllables. I'm not sure why this particular grouping was chosen. Normally a non-power-of-two in the lower number means there a triplet feel underlying things. Were my first comment to be taken without any qualifications, it would have been just as easy to write the piece as 59/64 which would have given the same results. One could count the piece like one does Gregorian Chant.

Contra other respondents, there is such a thing as a 1/48th note, and this happens occasionally when composers want to avoid writing tuplets: see Wikipedia discussion on Irrational Meters, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_signature#Irrational_meters .

So if you want to alternate 2/4 with a swinging 6/8, you have three notational devices:

• 2/4 then 6/8, and quarter note = dotted quarter note above the 6/8 ("metric modulation")
• 2/4 then 2/4, with triplet notation in the latter bar
• 2/4 then 6/12, since each triplet eight note is actually 1/12 of a whole note

OP has already said all of that as Option 1, I'm just restating it because modern composers do in fact occasionally do it, and most answers to date seem unaware of it.

And I think it is likely what Le Gassick was doing here, to show off, as other commenters have noted, and 59/48 is much more of a show-off than mere 5/4 + 9/8. Reports of the piece online never mention 5/4 + 9/8, as you'd expect if it was a typo. That particular piece is further reported to alternate 59/48 with 5 against 7: one instrument playing 5 notes to the bar, another playing 7. Once you've gone there, what's a little metric modulation?

The thing is, it actually is not an unpleasant listen at all, and it does have a nice beat. What it does not have is a predictable, uniform beat that you can detect and tap your foot to. But I think user28180's suggestion of 27+32 makes a lot of sense.

You'd have to take a look at the actual music to be sure. As a hunch, 59 is 32+27, two numbers with musically useful small factors. If we only want actual divisors of 48, it may be 48+8+3 or 24+16+16+3. Not particularly more desirable.

So really go hunt for more information in the music. How would a drummer work it? Like Joe Morello did in the David Brubeck Quartet compilation "Time Out", a famous Jazz album featuring only non-standard meters.

As @trolley813 mentions, it is likely a compound signature. Since 48 is not a power of 2, there is no such thing as a 48th note.

The top number(s) indicates how many beats, and the bottom is the number of divisions. The bar and each subdivision can only be halved each time. You can get 1 division, 2 divisions, 4 divisions or 8 divisions. Theoretically you can keep dividing, but in practicality it makes sense to double the speed of the music instead.

The time signature most likely indicates 5 units of the 1/4 division, followed by 9 units of the 1/8 division. You would expect see a plus sign between the 5/4 and the 9/8 in academic books, but in a computer print it might blend in with the staff.

How did you come to think that it is 59/48 time, as you don't have the sheet music?

There are many ways to make separate measures by divisions in subordinated bars. As there are different repeated patterns you can even write above a measure with a single pattern repeat 13x like in this piece of music: