Time Signature

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
This is the Hank Levy Legacy Band which is made up of alumni from Towson University music majors or students who played at the University where I attended. Would someone be so kind as to tell me what the time signature of this piece is in the beginning. Thanks

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lu5UfLD4dUI
 
S

SickRick

Guest
GD, you must be joking :)

He says "7 beats", then counts to 7....

Hint: the timesignature has got something to do with that :)


it's in 7/4 or 7/8 depending if you count the beats as 8th notes or quarter notes.
 

bobdadruma

Platinum Member
GD, you must be joking :)

He says "7 beats", then counts to 7....

Hint: the timesignature has got something to do with that :)


it's in 7/4 or 7/8 depending if you count the beats as 8th notes or quarter notes.
I was looking for a mistake or something, but I couldn't find one.
 
Ah, the age old debate: Is that 7/8 or 7/4???

This comes up all the time among musicians. The same questions get asked ( What the heck is the difference?? Can't I count it any old way . . . like 14/16?? ) Everyone has an argument, we all leave, and yet a month later, another guy . . . probably a BASS PLAYER ...will say "Hey, is that tune "Money" in 7/4 or 7/8????"

There is an answer to this . . . but before going into it, I think it might be helpful to hear how people are hearing this tune, how your counting it, and why you think it's in 7/4 or 7/8??

Here is a hint: It's got nothing to do with the drummer!!

t
 
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dcrigger

Senior Member
t - I'm real curious to hear what you think the definitive answer to this is. As there is no hard fast rule as to what number a composer chooses to put on the bottom of a time signature. Of course, common practice and the knowledge that deviating to far from that practice will likely make the piece harder for players to play - which is never in the composer's best interests.

The question between 7/8 and 7/4 for many straight 1/8th or 16th feel pieces is not that different from the decision between writing a funk piece in 4/4 with 16th notes or in cut-time - meaning 4/4 (or 2/2) felt in two with 1/8ths (with the quarters going by twice as fast - and with 1/8th notes standing in for the 16ths). When writing what many would hear today as a syncopated 16th piece, many jazz/big band writers (particularly back in the 70's) would choose instead to write it as cut-time with 1/8th notes. The idea being that all the resultant syncopated 1/8th figures would look very similar to the common figures in a typical uptempo swing piece (which they do) as thus be easier for the players to read... simply because they were more familiar.

But getting back to the topic - none of that still provides any definitive way of telling which choice the writer made from just listening to the music.

Knowing Hank's music as well as do (having played a bunch of it), I know his tendency was to write all but the fastest 7/8's as 7/4. This piece would have fallen clearly in Hank's 7/4 zone for sure. But that's just an educated guess - not a claim of knowing the definitive right answer for the music itself. As there is no single right answer.

David
 

Swiss Matthias

Platinum Member
Most jazz tunes in 7 are felt as 7/4, most funk/pop/rock/fusion stuff (with backbeat) in 7/8. Because swing feels are always quite "fast" compared to backbeat music. You can easily change medium to fast swing tunes into kind of a halftime hip-hop feel, which would change a counted 7/4 into a 7/8, but keeping to count at the same tempo.

It depends on
a) how you feel the pulse (and therefore either 7 beats per bar -> 7/4; or "3 and a half" pulses ->7/8.
b) how it's written (if it's written in a musical sense and payed attention to how it should be perceived by the audience)
c) how the general chord progression and the melodic motifs and phrases suggest it.
 

Swiss Matthias

Platinum Member
Is 7/8, and not difficult. Try some 5/4. THAT will toss your head!
Easy too, try any broken 16note-value signature! Especially when trying to make it flow and musical... Braincrusher...! (i.e. 11/16). Although it again depends on the tempo and the perception, most /8 could be seen as /16 and vice versa.
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
Most jazz tunes in 7 are felt as 7/4, most funk/pop/rock/fusion stuff (with backbeat) in 7/8. Because swing feels are always quite "fast" compared to backbeat music. You can easily change medium to fast swing tunes into kind of a halftime hip-hop feel, which would change a counted 7/4 into a 7/8, but keeping to count at the same tempo.
I'm not so sure, Matthias. I think the reason they are "felt" that way is not because of anything inherent in the sound of the music, but because we are used to reading and counting those types of music a certain way. Jazz (assuming you mean swing) is written with the 1/4 note as the primary rhythmic underpinning, as articulated most often on the ride cymbal. You could write it as 8th notes (and 16th note triplets) but you'd spend a lot of time and ink on beams and rests, cluttering up the page to no end. Rock and funk often has the 8th-note as the primary underpinning. Ironically because it came out of the straightening of the swung jazz 8th-note/triplet. So, I think that rather than "feeling" any particular way, we're simply conditioned by the conventions of writing/reading music to think of them in that way. It is a characteristic of "literacy" (in this case musical literacy) to start to believe that the symbols in front of our eyes are directly representative of some kind of reality, when they are actually very indirect tools of describing sounds and sights. It is just as accurate, in a theoretical sense, to say that the piece is actually one bar of 4/16 and one bar of 3/16.

Ultimately, the difference between a constant 7/8 and 7/4 pulse is not "felt" or heard at all - it's entirely intellectual, which is why those silly ten-page arguments here and on Facebook about, for instance, Sting's Seven Days continue to crop up. As Dave Crigger pointed out above, the choice to write in one signature or another is often made in a purely pragmatic light. The second reason a composer would choose one over the other would be in the case of changing time signatures so that some division or subdivision stays constant. Going from 4/4 into 7/4 is very different from going from 4/4 into 7/8 unless it's indicated on the score that the old 1/4 will now equal the new 8th note. But why waste the ink?


I'm fairly positive that your average (or even above average as this type of thread proves) audience member has absolutely no clue whether or not what they're hearing is in 7/8 or 7/4. Frankly, it's inconsequential to the median listener. Those elements are for musicians to haggle about and in the end simply come down to the ease of communication - i.e. trying to get a sound onto paper and back out again by way of another musician.
 
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Boomka

Platinum Member
Easy too, try any broken 16note-value signature! Especially when trying to make it flow and musical... Braincrusher...! (i.e. 11/16). Although it again depends on the tempo and the perception, most /8 could be seen as /16 and vice versa.
It's all perception.

In my experience the most useful approach is to forget about the subdivisions and simply break the signature into groups of 3 and 2 using the primary accent structure. Most odd/asymmetric meters can be broken up this way. Once those points of tension and release are located the distances between them can be broken up any way you hear them, without worrying about whether they are 8ths, 16ths or what-have-you because, again, in terms of sound, it makes little difference. The more we try tp visually reconstruct and think/calculate those kinds of rhythms, the more likely we are to start to believe they are complex or difficult, rather than hearing and feeling what they actually sound like.

If you can feel a phrase of 2 and a phrase of 3, you're laughing.
 

drumtechdad

Gold Member
7/8 and 7/4 are precisely the same thing. So are 7/16 and 7/2.

Time signature only tells you the number of beats in a bar and which value gets one beat. It tells you nothing about tempo.

You can have a slow 7/8 or a fast 7/4; it's just the composer's choice which value to use as the beat.

In classical music it's very common to have slow music written in 8th-note time signatures. In non-classical it's less common but no less possible. One should not infer the tempo of a piece by what time signature it has.
 

GruntersDad

Administrator - Mayor
Staff member
GD, you must be joking :)

He says "7 beats", then counts to 7....

Hint: the timesignature has got something to do with that :)


it's in 7/4 or 7/8 depending if you count the beats as 8th notes or quarter notes.
As it was loading I wasn't listening. He did count it in. Duh. My bad. Thanks for the replies. I will try to be more observant. Now back to embarrassment city.
 

JPW

Silver Member
7/8 and 7/4 are precisely the same thing. So are 7/16 and 7/2.

Time signature only tells you the number of beats in a bar and which value gets one beat. It tells you nothing about tempo.

You can have a slow 7/8 or a fast 7/4; it's just the composer's choice which value to use as the beat.

In classical music it's very common to have slow music written in 8th-note time signatures. In non-classical it's less common but no less possible. One should not infer the tempo of a piece by what time signature it has.
Yeah, but if I were to write a song down I wouldn't use a signature that would force me to use 1/64 notes or full notes as a normal subdivision. It would just confuse people. So I would choose a signature that would keep me between 1/32 notes and 1/4 notes most of the time. Mathematically speaking it doesn't matter if it's 7/128 or 7/1. xD
 

Boomka

Platinum Member
That's just the point a lot of us are making, JPW. And as I've been trying to say, I think part of the reason many of us find odd signatures so difficult is worrying too much about the mathematics. Heck, at that point we're using two parts of our brains that have no business being involved in the work of trying to get the thing to sound/feel good - i.e. negative emotion and mathematics. Rhythm can be expressed mathematically, but rhythm isn't mathematical.

I will add one thing, however, at the risk of contradicting what I've said earlier in the thread. From the point of view of a composer, they may try to consciously use the psychology of the musician (as programmed by years of reading standardised notation) to get the feel and concept they want from the piece. By this I mean they may specifically choose certain time signatures because of the feeling we've come to associate with certain divisions/subdivisions. I think I recall reading that Samuel Barber wrote the infamous Adagio For Strings (Platoon...) in 4/2 because of the sense of breadth and length a half-note conveys compared to a 1/4 note. While mathematically it's all the same, psychologically there is a perception difference - at least to Barber. Moreover, rather than cut it into 2 bars of 2/2, putting it in 4/2 would prompt the musician to think of it as one long phrase, rather than one broken by the bar line. So there may be other concerns besides purely pragmatic ones.

I suppose it's a bit like choosing between synonyms - trying to find just the right shade of meaning.
 

JPW

Silver Member
That's just the point a lot of us are making, JPW. And as I've been trying to say, I think part of the reason many of us find odd signatures so difficult is worrying too much about the mathematics. Heck, at that point we're using two parts of our brains that have no business being involved in the work of trying to get the thing to sound/feel good - i.e. negative emotion and mathematics. Rhythm can be expressed mathematically, but rhythm isn't mathematical.

I will add one thing, however, at the risk of contradicting what I've said earlier in the thread. From the point of view of a composer, they may try to consciously use the psychology of the musician (as programmed by years of reading standardised notation) to get the feel and concept they want from the piece. By this I mean they may specifically choose certain time signatures because of the feeling we've come to associate with certain divisions/subdivisions. I think I recall reading that Samuel Barber wrote the infamous Adagio For Strings (Platoon...) in 4/2 because of the sense of breadth and length a half-note conveys compared to a 1/4 note. While mathematically it's all the same, psychologically there is a perception difference - at least to Barber. Moreover, rather than cut it into 2 bars of 2/2, putting it in 4/2 would prompt the musician to think of it as one long phrase, rather than one broken by the bar line. So there may be other concerns besides purely pragmatic ones.

I suppose it's a bit like choosing between synonyms - trying to find just the right shade of meaning.
Yeah, and for drummers certain subdivisions always make me think of rudiments and others just overall grooving. So I have a little different mindset when going with 7/16 or 7/4. I actually find the later to be much harder to play than the first one. I think it's because 7/4 makes me think more space and 7/16 makes me think busy rudimental patterns which I'm more familiar with.
 

drumtechdad

Gold Member
Yeah, but if I were to write a song down I wouldn't use a signature that would force me to use 1/64 notes or full notes as a normal subdivision. It would just confuse people. So I would choose a signature that would keep me between 1/32 notes and 1/4 notes most of the time. Mathematically speaking it doesn't matter if it's 7/128 or 7/1. xD
Yes--there are practicalities. 64th notes ought not "confuse" musicians, but 8th notes are certainly easier to read.

After teaching for more than three decades, though, I can tell you that many young musicians believe that the note value chosen for the beat also implies tempo. If I show them a part full of 1/16 notes, many assume that the music is fast. That's when I scowl and point to the tempo marking. ;-)
 

larryace

"Uncle Larry"
As it was loading I wasn't listening. He did count it in. Duh. My bad. Thanks for the replies. I will try to be more observant. Now back to embarrassment city.
Yea but GD, I'm so glad you asked because Swiss really made me understand the diff, because I never really knew. Now I know thanks to you. And nobdy thinks you're any less awesome.
 
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