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 Apr 24 '16 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. – Caleb Hines Apr 24 '16 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. – Carl Witthoft Apr 25 '16 at 11:08
  • I suspect he just set the time signature on his sequencer to 59/48 as an interesting compositional constraint. – Noel Walters Apr 26 '16 at 9:40
  • There is only one answer to this question: No. – CHEESE Feb 2 '17 at 14:06

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

  • 2
    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.) – Brian Chandler Apr 26 '16 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 :) – user45266 Dec 3 '18 at 5:40

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.


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.

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