Touching Bass (Part 10)
An odd Simon Trask tackles odd time signatures
Part 10 of our series ventures beyond 4/4 into the realm of odd time signatures - dare you join the expedition? Text and examples by Simon Trask.
Music in 4/4 time is so predominant in Western popular culture that it's easy to forget (or ignore) the fact that other time signatures exist, too. If all our musical ideas come 'naturally' to us in 4/4, perhaps that's because our musical training, whether formal or informal, only teaches us to think in 4/4, while the music around us constantly reinforces the sense of 4/4 time as the norm.
With this month's examples, however, we're going to attempt to break out of the 4/4 strait-jacket. Put simply, they illustrate how a 2-bar passage of music in 4/4 time can be adjusted to fit other, odd-numbered time signatures - specifically, 5/8, 7/8, 9/8 and 11/8. On initial listening, these deviations from the 4/4 norm may indeed seem odd, as in strange, but just let each one loop away in your sequencer for a while and that oddness will begin to fade away. What you're left with is simply music with a different feel - a feel which is determined by the time signature and, of course, the rhythmic interpretation of that time signature.
To my mind, Examples 2-5 all have a more fluid quality than Example 1, and the reason for this is they're not in four-square 4/4 time. My favourite is the 11/8 example, but maybe I'm just perverse! I'm not going to get too analytical about these examples, because the key is to listen to them and gradually absorb, or internalise, their time-sense in an intuitive way. However, it's worth observing that odd time signatures are made up of even and odd constituents, eg. 3 + 2 or 4 + 3. Exactly how you order these constituents is down to you - and there's nothing to stop you playing around with their order during a piece, or using different orderings in different musical parts; what matters, as always, is what sounds good.
To start out with you can just play the basslines if you want, but to get the full effect you really need to program in the drum and percussion parts; the pad part is the perennial icing on the cake, but it does serve to emphasise the change in harmony from bar 1 to bar 2, going from G major 9 to A minor 11 (the bassline has the 9th and 11th in bar 2). I've provided this change to make the length of each bar, and therefore the time signature, more apparent. In Examples 1-4 the bassline provides just a hint of Am7/D at the end of bar 2; however, in Example 5 this harmony becomes more pronounced with the bassline's greater emphasis on the D in the latter part of bar 2.
To conclude this month, let's say that you've absorbed the feel and sense of different time signatures to the point where you're able to create music that isn't in 4/4 time. Maybe people won't accept it. There are obvious problems where dance music is concerned: DJs might not (be able to) include it in a mix; people might not want to dance to it.
On the other hand, you just might be responsible for starting a whole new trend.
Feature by Simon Trask
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