We’ve looked at what a time signature is, visited simple time signatures and also compound time signatures! Now it’s time to explore the final type of time signature, the irregular time signature! Irregular time signatures are actually very common so let’s discuss what they actually are!
An irregular time signature is actually pretty hard to dance to! You may feel like you’ve missed a step…
An irregular time signature cannot be categorized in the same way as our other types of time signature. We cannot put it into our groups:
- Duple (two equal strong beats in a bar)
- Triple (three equal strong beats in a bar)
- Quadruple (four equal strong beats in a bar)
It is only possible to fit our regular time signatures into these categories as they have a regular (same length) number of beats that are easily divisible by 2, 3 or 4.
How to tell if a time Signature is irregular
An irregular time signature cannot be subdivided into any of the regular groups, duple, triple or quadruple. This is because the top number cannot be divided equally into two, three or four.
The number on the top of the time signature (the one that tells you how many beats) will not be able to be divided into equal groups. This is because the number is not a multiple of 2, 3 or 4!
What are some common irregular time signatures?
Some common irregular time signatures that you should familiarize yourself with are:
Let’s look at these in more detail:
5/4 means 5 crotchet beats in a bar. Remember the four at the bottom tell us we are counting in crotchets and the 5 at the top tells us how many beats.
However, 5/4 is a funny time signature to count as we wouldn’t go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5!
If you have ever played in an ensemble and watched a conductor conduct a 5/4 time signature. They will beat this in two… but this is not a duple time signature because…
This is not two equal beats, we are actually beating in unequal beats! We would group this into a minim followed by a dotted minim or a dotted minim followed by a minim.
Remember, 5/4 is an irregular time signature because the number 5 is not easily divisible between 2, 3 or 4!
5/8 means 5 quaver beats in a bar. Remember the 8 at the bottom tells us that we are counting in quavers and the 5 at the top tells us that we have 5 quavers in each bar.
But as we have seen with the above time signature, 5/8 is also counted in 2. Remember that this is not duple though as we have two unequal beats!
We would group this into a dotted crotchet followed by a crotchet or a crotchet followed by a dotted crotchet!
7/4 means 7 crotchet beats in a bar. Remember the 4 at the bottom tells us that we are counting in crotchets and the 7 at the top tells us that we have 7 crotchets in a bar!
However, as we have seen with the time signatures above, this is also not counted as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7…
We actually count this time signature in 3! But remember, as 7 is not easily divisible by 2, 3 or 4, it is an irregular time signature so although we are counting in 3 this cannot be labelled a triple time signature because the beats must be equal for it to be triple.
We would either group this as minim, minim, dotted minim or dotted minim, minim, minim!
7/8 means 7 quaver beats in a bar. Remember the 8 at the bottom tells us that we are counting in quavers and the 7 at the top tells us that we have 7 quavers in the bar!
But as with the time signature 7/4, we also count 7/8 in 3.
This would be grouped as dotted crotchet, crotchet, crotchet or crotchet, crotchet, dotted crotchet!
Ear Training and Meters
To develop as a musician you’ll want to be able to recognise time signatures by ear. This is where ear training comes in, as the more you practice, the better your’ll get.
My recommendation for this is Tonegym as they have a comprehensive and fun program for training your ears. It’s what has gotten the best results with for my own students.
They have a great game called ‘Rhythmania’, were you have to read rhythms in different meters and tap them back using the spacebar. I like how Tonegym structure the game so it always gives you the right level of challenge.
For an in-depth look at ear training, here’s my full review of Tonegym.
Why do I need to learn the groupings?
The groupings are important to remember as it will help you with your beaming!
Have a look at the below bar:
This is extremely difficult to read, it is important to make use of beams in order to make this easier to understand when we are playing the music! Now thing how this is conducted…
Dotted crotchet followed by crotchet OR crotchet followed by dotted crotchet
Much easier to read!
These are the most common irregular time signatures and it is very important to feel confident reading these! Particularly if you are taking your ABRSM Grade 5 theory!
I hope your revision is going well! Check out my other blogs for support!