How do I notate the time signature in the Breakdown of Bruno Mars's 24K Magic (Around 2:40). It is an 8-bar breakdown.

At first I thought that 4/4 would be suitable. However, it seems very unnatural to the music itself, especially because the "downbeats" are alternating between beats 3 and 4, which I often lose count when counting in 4/4. However, if I change the first bar of the breakdown to 3/4 and sixth bar to 5/4. The downbeats kinda align with beat 1. Furthermore, if I change bars 2-5 from four 4/4 bars to 3/4 + 5/4 bars, it would seem to perfectly align with the downbeats; however it would present a very complex time for the musicians. I think that 4/4 could be suitable in a way, thinking it as a polyrhythm thing, but the groove would kinda feel off.

  • It won't be complex for musicians. Counting is what they do. The pros would cope quite easily with changing time sigs.
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 6, 2017 at 8:28

5 Answers 5


There's not a strong consistent beat there at all really, which is somewhat typical for a breakdown. In fact, the most consistent part is the snare drum on beat 4, and it's definitely not following a typical 3/4 pattern (strong-weak-weak). For that reason I'd keep it in 4/4 all the way through. That will also make it easier for the reader to see where the odd beats are falling without having to worry about adjusting for the time signature.


4/4 is most likely what the composer had in mind. However, it's the combination of two things that make this a little tricky to make out- the absence of a kick on 1 and the switch to half-time.

By "half-time" I mean that the 1-2-3-4 progresses at half the speed that it does in the rest of the song. The first "1" falls on the "ugh" (though it doesn't have the normal emphasis), then the "2" doesn't come until the "ka" of "karat" with the snare hit. The "3" is not emphasized, then the "4" is again emphasized with the snare. The snare continues to be the main guide for the rest of the section, consistently falling on the half-time "2" and "4". The next "1"s are weakly emphasized by the lyric "sound", and then the synth "beeeeeow".


It's still in 4/4 time and the drums play a 2-measure phrase. It just moves to a half-time feel as someone else noted. Basically this shifts the snare to the 3. A traditional basic half-time beat has a kick on 1 and snare on 3 (counting 8ths). It feels the same as counting 16ths and playing kick on 1 & 3 and the snare on 2 and 4.

But back to this song's breakdown. The snare is always on the 3 except for the 5th measure where the snare plays on the 2 and 3. The basic pattern is this as follows (S=snare, B=Bass). For simplification purposes, I'm including the 16th note hi-hat patterns (which are not exact), I'm not showing the rests coming into the 1st measure. This is just to get you started.

enter image description here

If you work this out, pick up the snare on the 2 in the 5th measure and throw in some 16ths on the 2 and 4 (2e+a, 4e+a), this will get the job done. There are some tom accents obviously and depending on how true to the PROGRAMMED recording you want to stay, will determine how much work you put into this.


Here's how I found it easiest to count and play. I hope it helps.

enter image description here

  • Of course, this is without the hi hat decoration but it's a good place to start.
    – Paul
    Commented Mar 25, 2018 at 8:22

To me, on first listen, this is clearly 4/4. Here is some justification:

There is a snare on every 3, which screams "4/4 halftime backbeat". This is an extremely common pattern in Jazz, Funk, Metal, Rock, Pop, Dance, etc. etc... Most experienced listeners of any of these genres will recognize as a STRONG signal for 4/4, so you need good reason to say it's not.

The main reason to suggest a different time signature is to place the accents on downbeats. It's not necessary that downbeats are accented, though, and this song clearly takes from the funk genre, where it's perfectly normal to accent any beat, downbeat or not.

Also, Apply Occam's razor- The simplest explanation is probably correct. "It continues in 4/4" is a convincing and very simple explanation. Changing time signatures is atypical for the genre, and much more complicated of an explanation, and now the snare is playing... anything but a normal backbeat.

It is not polyrhythmic either. The kick and snare pattern repeat in groups of 8 beats. Well, not quite exactly, but the general idea is there. The first 8 beats are the same as the next 8 beats, which are almost the same as the next 8 beats (a couple kicks get added, but the original pattern is still there). The last 8 beats are different to lead into the next phrase, but these are clearly 4/4 anyway. So, whatever time signatures we use, they should probably reflect this and repeat in groups of 8. 4/4 all the way through does this quite simply. Compare the kick and snare pattern to a halftime version of this common groove.

enter image description here

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