"Odd" Time Signatures

These time signatures are less common because many listeners get confused when they listen to music that uses them. However, some songwriters are skilled enough to write in odd time signatures without confusing the listener. Anyone who wants to work as a professional musician should be familiar with these time signatures, but if you don’t see yourself using them, feel free to skip to the next chapter. Some of these have more than one common option for the pattern of strong and weak beats.

Time Signature Pattern of Strong and Weak Beats
Five-four Strong-weak-weak-strong-weak
Seven-four (or seven-eight) Strong-weak-strong-weak-strong-weak-weak
Nine-eight (option 1) Strong-weak-weak-strong-weak-weak-strong-weak-weak
Nine-eight (option 2) Strong-weak-strong-weak-strong-weak-strong-weak-weak

These odd time signatures are most useful, but there are more. Time signatures like eleven-eight, thirteen-eight, and fifteen-eight exist. You could conceivably play a song that has thirty-seven 8th notes per bar, but it might not sound good. In general, these odd time signatures have a strong beat every two beats, or every three beats. In other words, the strong beats mark the beginning of a smaller group of two or three beats within the bar. As you can see in the table above, the time signature of five-four could be thought of as a group of three beats (strong-weak-weak) plus a group of two beats (strong-weak), or 3+2 for short. Eleven-eight could be 3+3+3+2, or 2+2+2+2+3. You could be creative with adding twos and threes together to get numbers like thirteen, fifteen, or even thirty-seven.