Though most music is composed and played in common time signatures (2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8), it's not unusual to find music played or composed in odd time signatures (5/4, 5/8, 7/4, 7/8, 11/8, etc). For thousands of years, odd time meters have added richness to musical genres in every part of the world. Here we will explore the history of odd time meters in popular music, their role in music today, and the correct approach to understanding and playing them. It is important to understand time signatures, that is, what the numbers in them mean. The top number tells how many beats there are per measure, while the bottom number tells what kind of note lasts for one beat. So, in the most common time signature, 4/4, the top "4" indicates four beats per measure, and the bottom "4" indicates that a quarter note lasts for one beat.
Further, the top number may be any number within reason, while the bottom number is restricted to a small range of even numbers (i.e. 2, 4, 8, 16, and less commonly 32, 64, and even 128), with "2" representing a half note, "4" representing a quarter note, etc. In the early periods of jazz and Rock n' Roll, songs were, almost always composed and played in common meters. However, by the middle of the 20th century, odd time meters were often employed in Jazz.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet was among the first to compose songs with odd meters (e.g. "Take Five", by Paul Desmond). Another pioneer was Don Ellis, who used odd time signatures in his Big Band Jazz compositions such as "Strawberry Soup".
The early 1970s saw a handful of "Progressive Rock" groups use a wide variety of odd time meters. Kansas, Rush, Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Genesis, Gentle Giant, and Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention are a few of the pioneers who continue to influence countless musicians (e.g. Sting with Vinny Colaiuta on "St.
Augustine in Hell" and "Seven Days"). Bands such as Dream Theater, Queensryche, Spock's Beard, Fates Warning, King's X, Soundgarden, and Tool all use odd time meters today. In addition, New Age artists such as Yanni and John Tesh expose a very different audience to such meters. With odd time meters, the role of the drum set player continues to be to establish a strong groove with solid time.
There are two practical approaches to counting the 5/4 time signature: subdividing the measure into familiar time signatures or counting all five beats within the measure. In subdividing, the most common approach is to divide the five quarter notes into groups 2 and 3 or 3 and 2. A less common, but appropriate method in some songs (primarily Progressive Rock), is to count 4 and 1 and/or all five quarter notes. This are not only rock patterns but perhaps the most famous odd time Jazz drum pattern (by famed drummer Joe Morello, from "Take Five").
The practical tempo range for 5/4 time is roughly quarter note equal from one hundred sharp to one hundred and thirty two beats per minute.
By Eric Starg. Eric uses drum sets by Mapex Drums, Pacific Drums and Gibraltar Drum Rack. Eric is a member of Drum Solo Artist where he is answering drum related questions, and helping drummers with tips and advices.