So, I ran into a bit of an issue related to time signatures. In this orchestral piece I am working on(still writing down the piano solo version but I am thinking about the orchestration every step of the way). Namely, that the downbeat moves from the strongest beat in 4/4 to the weakest, from beat 1 to beat 4 when a solo starts in the bass clef. If the downbeat moved to beat 2, I would be thinking:

Well, that is just a bit of syncopation, no worries. The beat will move back to beat 1 after the solo.

But, the downbeat moves to beat 4 when the C is reached in the bass clef melody(at least, that's what I hear in the recording of my piano improvisation). And beat 4 is the weakest of all the beats in 4/4, usually being the upbeat. I am contemplating perhaps inserting a 3/4 bar just before the accompaniment for the solo comes, so that the downbeat matches up with beat 1 again. Here is the solo unaltered:

enter image description here

If I insert a preceding 3/4 bar at bar 70 and then immediately change back to 4/4 at bar 71, the downbeats match up with beat 1 once again. But, this leaves me with an extra beat and since the downbeat is on beat 1 after the solo, when it changes to 2/4 for a second dramatic outburst, that means that the final bit of arpeggio is going to have to end on beat 4, which means a rest between the supposed end of the arpeggio and the actual final bit of arpeggio, given that the arpeggios are 16th notes. Now, I mean, that is what I do in the recorded piano improvisation, but I have quite a few pauses in the recording that aren't representing rests.

Wait a second, it sounds to me as though the downbeat moves back to beat 1 at the whole note C. A 5/4 bar in the form 2+3. But then, the final bit of the arpeggio would again be 3/4. That would mean this time signature sequence:

Bar 70: 3/4 Bar 71: 4/4 Bar 73: 5/4 Bar 74: 4/4 Bar 75: 3/4 Bar 76: 2/4

And that is just to match the downbeat with beat 1 during the solo. Wow is that a lot of consecutive time signature switching. At least it is gradually adding and subtracting beats to the bar and this excerpt is from the second slow section but still, that's a lot of time signatures in quick succession. And the sixteenths won't beam right in the 5/4 in Musescore. I have run into that issue every time I write in 5/4, that the beaming does not look right.

I would like to keep it in 4/4 if I can to avoid the six time signatures in quick succession. But then, if I am keeping it in 4/4, how would I get across that the downbeat changes to beat 4 at bar 70 and then back to beat 1 at bar 74? Dynamic accents?

  • 1
    When I write classical music with no 20th-21st-century influences, I always make sure I never switch meters throughout. If I end up composing such a classical music melody that naturally wants to switch meters, I scrap it and write another melody instead.
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 7, 2020 at 5:59
  • 1
    Admittedly, when I hummed your "Bassoon and Cello Melody" just now, it wasn't hard to convince myself that the 4th beat of Measure 70 actually wasn't a downbeat. With proper slight accents on Beat 1 of Measures 70-74, it's quite possible that your question could end up moot, even if you keep all your sheet music as-is.
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 7, 2020 at 6:04
  • But if you insist on emphasizing Beat 4 of Measure 70, I suspect an accent is the best way to go.
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 7, 2020 at 6:05

2 Answers 2


Bar lines are there for two purposes, sort of. They put regular timed pieces into convenient boxes (bars!) which makes it easy to read and keep in time. But they also guide us as we play, to slightly emphasise the first beat of those bars. That also helps keep time.

As one plays something that hasn't been committed to paper yet, one puts in one's own emphases. You've done that - inadvertently - or - on purpose. Only you know which.

Whichever it is, two solutions writing-wise are available. 1. Keep changing the time sig. Which, if the bottom '4' retains the basic pulse, isn't too much of a problem for anyone. Just keep counting and reading, and it'll come out in the wash.

Or - keep it all in 'standard', and write in accent marks over the parts which you want accented (obviously!).

Either works fine, although if I was conducting, I'd be happier with option 2.

  • It's hard to tell from that sample, but if the OP manages to get some overall repeat pattern, he might be better off with a 12/4 bar with accents on 1, 4, and 8 . Or maybe not :-) Feb 7, 2020 at 13:26
  • @CarlWitthoft - fwiw - suspect OP is female - and you know what it's like on this site, sensitivity wise..!!! I'm sure Caters won't mind, but...there are others.
    – Tim
    Feb 7, 2020 at 14:35

The problem trying to answer the question is guessing what you are attempting to notate.

Ignoring any accentuation implied by the bar lines, the bass solo as written simply doesn't have any coherent rhythm that I can find. If this is a transcription of an improvisation, that in itself doesn't matter. Maybe you because focused on the 16th notes in the right hand and lost track of the number of beats in the bar. But unless you consider the improvisation to be the final immutable version of the piece, one possibility is simply that you improvised a mistake.

When you have figured out exactly what you want to write, then it should be more obvious how to write it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.