Let's say I have the hybrid time signature given by 5/4 = 3/4 + 2/4.

Would I tap this as 5 evenly spaced pulses?

or is it two evenly spaced beats divided respectively into 3 and 2 evenly spaced pulses, the result being 5 unevenly spaced pulses?


The difference between 5/4 and 3/4+2/4 is not in the timing, it’s in the inherent stress or emphasis.

If we think of size indicating stress, like strong=O, medium=0 and weak=o then we can map out how some popular beats are normally stressed:

  • 4/4 = O o 0 o | O o 0 o |
  • 2/4 = O 0| O 0 |
  • 3/4 = O 0 o | O 0 o | OR O o o | O o o |
  • 5/4 = O o 0 o o| O o 0 o o| OR maybe O o 0 o 0|O o 0 o 0|

So we can see how 3/4 + 2/4 is different from 5/4:

  • 3/4+2/4 = O o o O 0 | O o o O 0 |

The timing is the same, it’s just the pattern of emphasis that is different. So to actually answer: five evenly spaced pulses.

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_signature#Additive_meters

  • Never seen or played 5/4 as OoOoO, with emphasis on the last beat. Often seen and played as OooOo though. – Tim Nov 28 '17 at 7:54
  • And 3/4+2/4 is more like OooOo, coming in, simplified, as 5/4, with, as you say, each beat the same duration. – Tim Nov 28 '17 at 9:29
  • @Tim I’ve always felt that a march has a slightly stronger second best than the second beat of 4/4, but to me O 0 and O o are virtually the same. Regarding a slightly stronger fifth beat in 5/4, I was kinda thinking of “My Wave” by Soundgarden. It just doesn’t feel like that last beat is weak. But again, small quibble, IMHO in the face of understanding what meter is meant to convey. – Todd Wilcox Nov 28 '17 at 12:39
  • It's not criticism, more a generalisation of what I've come across. Yes, a march in 2/4 will have a stronger than normal beat 2, rather like a march in 6/8, with that emphasis on 'beat4'. I guess the archetypical 5/4 is going to be 'Take Five' which is 3+2, which maybe the OP should listen to, to understand an answer. Possibly 'My Wave' has that beat 5 emphasis to help keep time due to sliding between 5/4 and 4/4 - just a thought... – Tim Nov 28 '17 at 12:46

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