If I have a simple 4/4 piece and at some point, for some reason, I delay the rhythm by 1 beat. How do I notate that particular irregularity on the staff?

I think having a bar with 5/4 without writing any extra notation would be really hard to read.

An example can be found in "Love Of My Life" by Queen. In this video it happens at 0:54. If you count the whole verse 1, the piano part at 0:54 will sound off-beat and the verse 2 will start on beat 2 instead of 1.

  • 1
    It's done all the time in music. Go check out Stravinsky or Copland. Apr 5, 2019 at 12:58

3 Answers 3


If the music changes time signature, just write the new time signature:

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You could also write a fermata over the beat in question and put a half-note above it to clarify the desired length, but this only makes sense if the extra beat can be understood as a pause.

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    In the Quenn example, the instrumental filling at 0:54 sounds like a 4/4 started on beat 2 of the voice, and the voice than starts on beat 1 of the instrumental, so you have one extra beat somewhere.. where?
    – Xandru
    Apr 5, 2019 at 0:21
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    MuseScore notation for the Queen song is found by Google. There's a bar in 3/4 at the point you mention. I tried to answer the question generally, as specific transcription questions tend to be closed.
    – user48353
    Apr 5, 2019 at 0:30
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    When writing sheet music, you should want to make it as clear to the performer as possible what is going on. Not changing time signatures in this case would just be misleading. If you change time signatures in the piece (which is what is happening by adding an extra beat to one bar), then notate it appropriately. If its not a true beat, and the note is just held longer, as the answer says, a fermata is fine. Apr 5, 2019 at 10:41

You could also have a pickup measure at the start of your piece if that extra beat happens to be the first beat of your song. They look like: this

Note also that if you do this, convention dictates that the last measure of the piece be shorter by the amount you added to the beginning (but recently, this convention's been on the decline in modern music).

  • I think the convention that you shorten the last bar by the length of the anacrusis is not followed so often in modern music.
    – Dekkadeci
    Apr 5, 2019 at 6:05
  • @Dekkadeci You're right. I just didn't think it was worth a mention, but I'll change it.
    – user45266
    Apr 5, 2019 at 6:21
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    Coincidentally, I just ran across a video about Anacruses by Music Theory Guy. I agree with @Dekkadeci in that I rarely see the last bar shortened but I'm not experienced to know if that's proper or not.
    – JYelton
    Apr 5, 2019 at 18:02
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    It seems right and proper to have the first and last bars of a piece adding up properly. They do when both are full bars, why not when there's an anacrucis. And if it's going to loop round, surely it must?
    – Tim
    Apr 6, 2019 at 7:02
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    @Tim which is probably why most songs I see with a pickup loop around to the bar AFTER the pickup Apr 6, 2019 at 16:20

There are also cases where composers choose to have no time signature at all, thereby suggesting that the number of beats per measure may vary. One example for that would be Samuel Barber's The Crucifixion, from Hermit Songs.

  • How would a piece like that be counted in? - or conducted?
    – Tim
    Apr 6, 2019 at 7:04

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