Today I’m going to be showing you a simple hack for counting odd time signatures. The time signatures we’ll be looking at are specifically those with an 8^{th} or 16^{th} note denominator. So we’re talking 5/8, 7/8, 11/8, 7/16, 13/16 etc.

So if those kinds of musical numbers have always seemed crazy weird or really hard to count, this is the lesson for you!

**Time Signature’s Explained**

So when you look at a time signature, most people think of the top number (the **numerator**). That’s the **number of beats** in a bar.

**4/4** is **four beats** in a bar, **5/4** is **five beats** in a bar. But the bottom number can be a little bit of a mystery for some.

Well, it’s actually really simple. It’s just the **type** of beat. Most of you will be familiar with quarter notes and 8^{th} notes and 16^{th} notes. Well that’s all there is to it.

** 4/4** is **four quarter notes** in a bar. **6/8** is **six** **8 ^{th} note beats** in a bar,

**5/16**is

**five 16**in a bar. Easy. (see video for examples).

^{th}notes**Odd Time Signature ‘Hack’**

Counting those little 8^{th} notes and 16^{th} notes at speed can become tough and with odd time signatures you really don’t ever want to be counting that much anyway. It’s much better to build up a **feel** for odd time signatures just as you would 4/4.

So the tip is… you want to count** half time**.

Let’s take **7/8** as our time signature. We have 7 beats:

If we count a half time pulse of quarter notes while **retaining** the eight note divisions we find the following:

Finally, we can **remove** **the upbeats** or the ‘and’ beats:

This way of counting 7 might seem a little alien at first because you’re counting 4 beats as you would in 4/4. But we’re simply **removing** the** final 8th note**. This gives us a quick 8th note cutoff for our final ‘4’.

**Counting 7/8**

Now let’s try counting a really basic **7/8 drumbeat**. This will test how you can keep your focus on that pulse and lock in. The count in is a single bar of 7/8.

**7/8 Practice Track:**

**7/8 Practice Track:**

**Advantages To This Method**

By counting in half time we accomplish two things. We **relax** our counting and **feel** the pulse way easier. There are less beats to track and because it’s so much more relaxed, we can count much faster tempos.

**Applying The Bass**

Let’s try applying that principle to a bass line. First let’s just try outlining our half time count in 7/8 with a single note. Start by counting the ‘and’ beats and then remove them:

**7/8 Practice Track:**

**7/8 Practice Track:**

Anyone familiar with the song **Subdivisions** by **Rush** will instantly recognise this rhythm.

**A Riff In 7/8**

Now let’s add some more notes in there to create a riff.

**7/8 Practice Track:**

**7/8 Practice Track:**

**All The Other Odd Time Signatures!**

So that’s **7/8** but how does this apply to other time signatures. Well this is where it gets really cool. If we take **5/8** as an example and apply the same method we find a 3 count.

Here is our count of 5:

Next we count our half time pulse while retaining the upbeats:

Finally we remove the upbeats to reveal our shortened count of 3:

Then as we work up through each odd time in turn (5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15 etc.) we just add one to our main pulse each time.

- 5/8 = 3
- 7/8 = 4
- 9/8 = 5
- 11/8 = 6
- 13/8 = 7
- 15/8 = 8 (and so on)

**Playing In 5/8**

So let’s just try another example in 5/8. This time let’s try playing a single A note:

**Practice Track:**

**Practice Track:**

Now let’s try a riff:

**Adding Extra Notes**

If you want to take this method a little further you can start to add in the **8 ^{th} notes** gradually as a way of building up your

**odd time vocabulary**.

So if we take 7/8 as an example, the 8^{th} notes are always going to be some combinations of **twos and threes**:

So we can progressively add these groupings into our original 7/8 riff:

**7/8 Practice Track:**

**7/8 Practice Track:**

**First Grouping:**

**Second Grouping:**

**Third Grouping:**

Try **mixing** these groupings up in order to help develop your feel for the time.

**Flower Punk**

So finally let’s look at a great riff for practicing time changes with this method. This riff is from the song **Flower Punk** by **Frank Zappa:**

**Practice Track:**

**Practice Track:**

Juan DoncelMarch 16, 2019 at 7:05 pmGreat lesson, perfectly explained. Ideal for beginners at odd time signatures, and probably the best explained lesson out there about the subject.

JoeMarch 16, 2019 at 11:36 pmBest explanation about odd times out there. Great job Mark! I couldn’t have done it better myself. :-)

dennis TINUCCIMarch 22, 2019 at 12:47 amNow I see beats and signatures in terms of rhythm – thank you.

Trevor BoydApril 7, 2019 at 5:22 pmGreat explanation, thank you.

rohit aggarwalNovember 13, 2019 at 8:41 amthanks for the information

JJ WilliamsDecember 22, 2020 at 2:30 pmThis lesson made my sight reading life so much easier. Greatly appreciated!