Recently I started playing drums on the side just to relax, so nothing serious. I picked up this song because the drums seemed reasonably complex so that they would present a fair challenge for the next few weeks / months.

I've been making progress, but I'd like to learn a bit about the theory too (I played piano as a kid so I'm not scared of music theory). So now I'm trying to figure out the time signature of the following drum tab:

C |X---------------|----------------|----------------|----------------|
S |------O-----O---|------O-----O--O|------O-----O---|------O-----O-OO|
B |O----O-----O----|O----O-----O----|O----O-----O----|O----O-----O-O--|

So the accent is on the 7th and on the 13th note. How would one then go about determining the time signature?


The simplest way to interpret this is 4/4. Notice that each bar is 16 "beats" wide - each of these notes would be a sixteenth note in standard notation. The sixteenth notes are usually counted as "one-e-and-a-two-e-and-a" and so on. So, what you called the 7th note is generally called "two-and" and the 13th note is called "four".

Here's your example with the counting added below:

C |X---------------|----------------|----------------|----------------|
S |------O-----O---|------O-----O--O|------O-----O---|------O-----O-OO|
B |O----O-----O----|O----O-----O----|O----O-----O----|O----O-----O-O--|

Here's an example of a simple beat in 5/4:

H |X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-|X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-|X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-|X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-X-|
S |--O-----O-------O---|--O-----O-------O---|--O-----O-------O---|--O-----O-------O---|
B |O-----O-----O-------|O-----O-----O-------|O-----O-----O-------|O-----O-----O-------|

You can just about hum "Take 5" along to this :-)

Hope this helps...

  • Ok, but wouldn't 4/4 then mean that the accent is on 3, 7, 11 and 15 for example? – Philip Kamenarsky Mar 24 '12 at 19:35
  • Disregard the previous comment, those are of course 16th notes; but wouldn't 4/4 mean that the accents is on the 3rd quarter note, i.e. on the 9th 16th note? – Philip Kamenarsky Mar 24 '12 at 20:02
  • No, a specific time signature does not imply accents on specific notes. It simply indicates how the rhythm pattern repeats, i.e., how many beats in a bar. So 4/4 has 4 quarter notes per bar; 5/8 has 5 eighth notes per bar, and so on. Thus, you can count along to a rhythm in 4/4 like this: 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 and so on. In 5/4 – Stretch55 Mar 26 '12 at 23:36
  • The time limit on editing prevents me from fixing the above, but here's where I was going - in 5/4 you can count along like this: 1 2 3 4 5 | 1 2 3 4 5 | 1 2 3 4 5 | 1 2 3 4 5 |... Or listen to Pink Floyd's Money - most of it is in 7/4 - you can count along like this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 | – Stretch55 Mar 26 '12 at 23:44

You can't. Your example could be 2/2, 2/4, 2/8, 4/2, 4/4, 4/8, etc.; there's nothing to indicate the time signature. Unless it's explicitly indicated you need to either be familiar with the song or make an educated guess.

I'm not overly familiar with drum beats but I would guess that there are common time signatures used with accents on 7 and 13. While it's not guaranteed to be one of them it's not a bad default assumption.

Just like with staff notation, tabs don't incorporate tempo into their representation of the music. The tempo has to be noted separately, or as is more usual in the case of guitar tabs, you need to already be familiar with the speed.

  • Ok, so having odd accents doesn't exclude meters like 4/4 for example, where to my understanding the accent would be on the 3rd quarter note? – Philip Kamenarsky Mar 24 '12 at 19:53
  • @PhilipK I'm not knowledgeable enough about drums to know whether that's true for (certain styles of) drums; as a guitarist/pianist I would interpret 4/4 as "STRONG weak medium weak". Certainly, though, you can't exclude 4/4. – delete me Mar 26 '12 at 2:45

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