I'm writing a song where some measures have less than the full number of beats indicated in the time signature. This occurs in the middle of the piece, but it is a pickup to the next phrase. How is this normally notated? Do I just write a measure with one beat without changing the time signature, or do I have a measure of 1/4?

  • If I understand what you want to do correctly, you would change the time signature for the one measure and then change it back. May 25, 2016 at 20:13

3 Answers 3


If you're putting an extra beat in then yes, the proper way to notate it is to have that measure in 1/4 time.

Also note that the following measure, if it's in 4/4, would need to have the new time signature notated as well. That is, one would have to write the next measure with a 4/4 time signature.

  • 1
    5/4 might be more appropriate as 1/4 seems a bit odd to me. But of course depending on context or stresses in the piece 1/4 might be suitable. May 25, 2016 at 22:45
  • I suspect this is an answer to the wrong question! I'd be pretty sure the OP is talking about split bars, corresponding to the lines of a song, not to odd extra beats.
    – Laurence
    Feb 17 at 21:57

Is there a full 4/4 bar before each pickup? In that case it will have to be a 1/4 bar. But this is rare. Maybe you're following a pattern (common in hymn tunes) where each line has an anacrusis but there are no extra beats. Often this is notated with a split bar, often with a line break. In this case no extra time signatures are required.

A few lines of music in 4/4, but with single beat "bars" at the start of the lines, and three beat "bars" at the end of each line.


I've a feeling that you are using anacruses, which are the pick up notes, often of one beat. You MAY just find that the rest of that particular bar still exists, but nothing is happening in it. So, three beats of rest and the one beat anacrusis could be what you need to write. If the pulse of the piece is interrupted for this bit, then I'm wrong. If it continues smoothly, this could be correct.

EDIT: of course (after this answer has stood for many years), there's always the option of using phrase marks, starting at the 1st note of each phrase, ending at the last. That way, readers will be able to phrase (!) what's written in the correct manner.

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