So, I am composing another piece that involves time signature switching. I'm starting with the piano solo improvisation that I recorded and I'm thinking of expanding it from solo piano to orchestra. Now, with solo piano, any time signature switch can be justified. But, in an orchestra, I have to take the conductor into consideration. My piece has a lot of emotional development that occurs within it. But there is one emotional development that involves a time signature switch. That is this:

Lamenting(Slow melody with arpeggio bass) -> Dramatic(Fast melody with tremelo bass) -> Lamenting -> Dramatic

The lamenting section doesn't use an actual lament bass progression, but it is very melancholic. I have it at quarter note = 45 BPM and I have it marked Lento lamentoso, literally meaning slow and lamenting. The dramatic section is at quarter note = 160 BPM, for now anyway. I might slow that down a bit, but it is certainly at an Allegro tempo. The Allegro is in 2/4 time. Right now, I have the Lento in 4/4, but I'm wondering if I should have it in 2/2, given that the half note is a very frequent note value and the sixteenths tend to be on the fourth or last eighth of the bar. Both of these suggest a beat of a half note at a tempo of 22.5 BPM.

I do tend to see the half note as the notated tactus in 2 different tempo extremes, the extremely slow and the extremely fast. But it isn't just the tactus making me wonder if I should have the Lento be in 2/2, but also the conducting gestures for 4 beats and 2 beats. I know that conductors could probably get across a 4/4 to 2/4 switch and vice versa just fine by just switching between the 4 beat gesture and the 2 beat gesture. Or could they? Especially combined with the tempo change, I'm worried that if I simply stick with the 4/4, the orchestra will play it as though it is in 2/2 and thus way too fast. Most common duple meter to switch to when combined with a change in tempo that I have seen is 2/2.

If I have the time signature switch between 2/2 and 2/4, the conductor will only have to use 1 conducting pattern throughout the entire piece. Whereas if I have the time signature switch between 4/4 and 2/4, the conductor will have to switch conducting patterns.

For some clarity, here is an excerpt from the Lento Lamentoso section of my piece. I don't have the note values all notated correctly because with this solo piano version, it is more important for me to see the rhythm, thus all the double dotted half notes, even though in an orchestral score in 2/2, those would be better notated as a half note tied to a dotted quarter.

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The smaller text within the image are comments related to the motives and what I think would fit in that moment when I write the full orchestral score. I know I'm missing a middle layer. I can only write so much for a solo piano version. I will add that middle layer when I write the orchestral score

So, should I notate the Lento lamentoso section in 2/2 so that the conductor will only have to use 1 pattern and because the sixteenths that occur tend to occur on the fourth and last eighth notes of the bar? Or should I notate it in 4/4 like I have currently and trust that the orchestra won't play the Allegro twice as fast as wanted when the conductor switches from the 4 beat pattern to the 2 beat pattern?

  • 3
    While it is kind of you to take into consideration the difficulty for the conductor, this isn't really necessary; they are prepared to conduct much more difficult time signatures than yours.Instead, you should use the time signature to communicate how the measure is subdivided, musically.
    – John Wu
    Feb 5, 2020 at 7:14
  • Put the intended MM(Metronome Marking) in explicitly for each section. Feb 5, 2020 at 13:46
  • The benefit to going from 4/4 to 2/2 is that what you write on the paper is the same, you just note that quarter = half. As a musician, I find that easier to grok while performing.
    – Duston
    Feb 5, 2020 at 15:09
  • Perhaps you can use a pickup note and/or rests at the end to compensate for the uneven amount of notes? I imagine this would mess up the organization of the song however. You could also just have it switch to 2/4 since it is quite similar (in my opinion) to 4/4 so it won't really affect anything. I wouldn't change from */4 unless there is a significant benefit, as doing so (like to 2/2) could arise some confusion.
    – Shidouuu
    May 11, 2021 at 21:30

1 Answer 1


I would choose 4/4 signature. Here's why:

  • The excerpt shows a secondary accent on every third quarter note. A 4/4 time signature reflects this where a 2/2 time signature does not.
  • Conducting 22.5 bmp is nearly impossible. The time between two beats is more than 2.6 seconds. There will be a very low sense of controll. Most conductors will choose to subdivide. This might lead to a more confusing situation than writing 4/4 upfront.

Addressing your concerns

  • No conductor will have difficulty transitioning between time signatures. This is what they do.
  • There will be no confusion about the intended tempi when you clearly indicate the metronome numbers.

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