I think that the reason my compositions in DAW's have seemed off is because they've actually been changing time signatures throughout, and I haven't accounted for it.

I tested this by making this tab (in tuxguitar)


For this song Last Battle on youtube

It starts 4/8 for the intro and "versey" part. Then it shifts to 3/8 for a measure before shifting from 3/8 to 5/8 one after the other on the prechorusy part, and then 8/8 for the chorusy part, all at 180bpm. It seems to line up much better this way.

I say versey, prechorusy, and chorusy parts because this song has no lyrics, and I don't know what else to call them.

So my questions are, if you take a look at my tab, does it look like I'm understanding time signatures correctly? I know some of the notes are wrong but I think the rhythm is right.

Added picture if you can't open the tab:


And also what would you call the versey, prechorusy and chorusy parts in correct terms?



2 Answers 2


After a quick listen I see no reason not to just use 4/4. The beat is definitely even, so whatever time signature you go with you should stick with or at least similar times (e.g., 2/2). You certainly shouldn't be switching signatures almost every measure.

It's hard to say where you went wrong here, especially since you didn't describe your method, but you will never see time signatures switch so frequently like that. (Except possibly in music specifically written that way, but it will be both obvious and feel unnatural.)

  • 1
    Absolutely agree - looks and feels like a 4/4 all the way.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    May 15, 2012 at 19:32
  • Thanks, the method which I used if you can call it that is that I counted out the notes. For the intro and the versy part I was able to count 12341234123412341234 at what turned out to be 360bpm, but when it went into the prechorusy part 1234 didn't fit just right so I tried 123 123 1234 1234 123 12345 123 12345 123 12345 and so on, until I got back to the chorusy part and 12341234 seemed to fit again. But this was in my head, and when I got to a computer to tab it, I split the tempo and the time signatures in half. May 15, 2012 at 20:08
  • I really thought that this was right, because it all seemed to fit perfectly with no leftovers. Although I guess I could've combined 5/8 and 3/8 into a 8/8...Can you explain what I did wrong based on what I told you? May 15, 2012 at 20:11
  • 1
    @user1159454 I see. The beat can be very different from the note pattern, so it's best to count the beat consistently and see if it fits. Following the drum line may be helpful -- at around 0:06 in the video the drums start a "soft HARD soft HARD" pattern which definitely indicates either 4/x or 2/x. It's hard to describe in text but the notes at the notes at the same spot are going "do-do, do, do-do-do" which matches well with the standard 4/4 beat pattern of "HARD soft medium soft".
    – user28
    May 15, 2012 at 20:18
  • 1
    There are very often beats or sub-beats without a note played at the same time. Time signatures are frameworks that you build on; in a sense they determine what you can do with the notes, whereas the individual notes don't determine the time signature. Hope that helps! If this stuff interests you then you should definitely consider studying music theory, even if informally, it's very helpful for tabbing and composing.
    – user28
    May 15, 2012 at 20:19

If you count 8ths, you are right that it is divided in 3/8 plus 5/8, but this is not the time signature, it's only the rhythm within figures that adds up to a repetitive pattern. If you add those two together you will get 8/8, and as a time signature, it's more natural to use 4/4 instead, since it's not very common to use 8th for the time signature unless it would be an odd number of 8th.

The fact that the pattern is built up around 3/8 plus 5/8, just makes the rhythm more interesting — it has little to do with the time signature. This way of braking with the basic beat where notes "hang over" and the next weighted note starts in the middle of next beat is called syncopation. We say that the notes are syncopated. This is a quite common method to make the rhythm more interesting.

There are are some special cases, where you have a phrase with odd numbered eighths, like a pattern that matches 7/8 and cannot be converted to x/4 (the pattern in your case is really 8/8).

I listened some more, and I see that after the first "versey part", there are triplets to add to the confusion. Triplets are basically 3 notes distributed evenly over the same amount of time that normally 2 notes would fit. So eights triplets would be 3 notes in the space of 2 eights, which is in our case 3 notes evenly distributed in one beat in a 4/4 time signature. You also have later quarter triplets, which is 3 notes over 2 quarters. This is harder to get right because it feels like it doesn't quite follow the ground beat. You have to identify these patterns comparing to the ground beat, which is the steady 4/4 beat you hear throughout the whole thing in the bass. You need to notice, though, that during the quarter triplets, the bass beat is silenced a bit (still there, though), and even some times the bass goes out and follows the triplets instead ( that does not mean that the time signature changes, though...)

  • I would say 'figures' instead of 'frames', but otherwise agree. May 16, 2012 at 9:55
  • @luserdroog: I agree. "Figures" is really the word I was looking for when I wrote it, so thanks! I have changed it now.
    – awe
    May 18, 2012 at 7:48

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