Although so much pop music these days is written in straight 4/4 meter, there’s still room for some great odd-meter creativity. In this article, we’ll go over what odd meter is, when and why you’d want to use it, and share examples of the most common of uncommon meters to try out in your next song.
Before we can define something as being “odd,” we first need to understand meter (or time signature). If this is your first time hearing these terms, or you feel like you need a refresher on the topic, head on over to Part 1 of the series to brush up on the basics.
As you know by now, 4/4 is by far the most popular time signature in the world. With four steady beats in each measure, it provides for a very stable rhythm. The top number in the time signature is easily divisible by two, which is what makes it feel "even." This is also true for time signatures like 2/4, 2/2, or 12/8.
As you learned in Part 2 of this series, despite having an odd number on top, songs in 3/4 still feel particularly stable and good. Whether they're marked as being 3/4 or 6/8, these songs are based on a rhythm that consists of groups of threes. Threes are easy to divide into sub-beats, so it's easy for us to feel their pulse, which is why these meters don't feel "off" or "strange" in any way.
4/4 and 3/4 (along with their variations) are all part of what we call simple meters. These can easily be divided either by two or three (also called duple or triple meter respectively). Simple meters naturally feel stable because they allow us to easily "feel" the groove even when all you hear is the click.
Odd meters, on the other hand, can create some very unusual and exciting rhythms.
What are odd meters?
Odd meters (as in strange ones) are those with no easy way to divide their sub-beats into equal groups.
Take 7/4 for example. You can't easily divide its beats into equal groups of two or three. Odd meters (also called complex, irregular, or asymmetrical meters) will have to consist of a combination of twos and threes in order make up their full measure and create their pulse. They feel unstable, slightly off-balance, and, well, odd—which is precisely where their beauty lies.
Let's have a look and listen to 5/8 time.
Listen to the first part of the audio sample. As you can hear and see, there's no way to just divide each measure into equal strong/weak pulses. Although you could count 1-2-3-4-5, 1-2-3-4-5, the groove will want to be subdivided into groups of beats, which will help create a more defined pulse.
One option would be to have a group of two beats followed by a group of three beats (2+3) as you can see and hear in the second audio example. In this instance, the first and third beats of each measure are accented.
Alternately, you could create a different pulse by flipping the order, first grouping three beats together, then two, (3+2) like in example 3.