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This is a list of musical compositions or pieces of music that have unusual time signatures. "Unusual" is here defined to be any time signature other than simple time signatures with top numerals of 2, 3, or 4 and bottom numerals of 2, 4, or 8, and compound time signatures with top numerals of 6, 9, or 12 and bottom numerals 4, 8, or 16.
The conventions of musical notation typically allow for more than one written representation of a particular piece. The chosen time signature largely depends upon musical context, personal taste of the composer or transcriber, and the graphic layout on the written page. Frequently, published editions were written in a specific time signature to visually signify the tempo for slow movements in symphonies, sonatas, and concerti.
A perfectly consistent unusual metrical pattern may be notated in a more familiar time signature that does not correspond to it. For example, the Passacaglia from Britten's opera Peter Grimes consists of variations over a recurring bass line eleven beats in length but is notated in ordinary 4 4 time, with each variation lasting bars, and therefore commencing each time one crotchet earlier in the bar than the preceding one had done.
Symphony No. 17 in G♯ minor by Nikolay Myaskovsky. Movement I has a 1 2 signature from rehearsal numbers 2-7, 25-35, 42-47, 59-66, and 70-74.
Alcancías by Silvestre Revueltas. Movement II, 5 bars after rehearsal 24, second bar of rehearsal 27, first bar of rehearsal 28, third bar of rehearsal 29, one bar before 31, and one bar before 32 are all 1 4.
"The Eynsham Poacher", a traditional song; in the arrangement by Dave Pegg, most of the tune is in 12 8, but the finale includes one bar of 1 4.
Mädchentotenlieder, by Bo Nilsson. Bars 20, 22-27, 33-36, 38-40, 43, 49, 51, 54, 57, 65, 76-77, 80-81, 86, 90-93, 95, 99, 103-7, 115-16, 118, 120, 122, 124, 126, 130, 134-42, 145, 153, and 158 are in 1 4 time.
Ká?a Kabanová, by Leo? Janá?ek. Act II is in 2 1 from rehearsal number 20 to just before rehearsal number 24; act III is in 2 1 for four bars before rehearsal number 27 and six bars before rehearsal number 28, followed by a mixture of 2 1 and between rehearsal numbers 28 and 29, and one bar before rehearsal number 36.
"Um Mitternacht" by Gustav Mahler (Rückert Lieder No. 5). Bar 27 is marked "6 2 (3 1)".
Upper number of 7
Upper number of 8
Note:8 4or8 8may refer to an evenly divided compound duple or quadruple meter. While this is arguably extremely common in music, the notations 8 4 and 8 8 themselves are not, so all divisions of this time signature are listed here
"All You Need Is Love" by The Beatles. The main verse pattern contains a total of 29 beats, split into two 7 4 measures, a single bar of 8 4, followed by a one bar return of 7 4 before repeating the pattern.
Movement I, bars 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 19, 22, 26-27, 29, 38-40, 46, 53, 69, 71, 73, 75, 83, and 85 are in 8 8
Movement IV, bars 204, 207, 210, 213 are in 8 8.
Petrushka by Igor Stravinsky. One bar before and five bars after rehearsal 4 superimposes a bar of 8 8 in piccolo 1 & 2, ob. 1 & 2, and trumpet 1, and piccolo 1 & 2, ob. 1-3, cornet 1 & trumpet 1, respectively against 3 4 in the rest of the orchestra.
Time signatures that group nine beats into 3+3+3 are very common in music. This section only lists other groupings, such as 2+3+2+2.
"The Count of Tuscany" by Dream Theater. The verse riff is in 9 4, with a rhythm of 3+2+2+3+3+2+3 8.
"Apocalypse in 9 8" by Genesis. Penultimate movement of the "Supper's Ready" suite, rhythm section plays a 9 8 riff as 3+2+4, organ solo plays polymetrically over this (sometimes 4 4, sometimes 7 4.)
"Big Lie Small World", by Sting is in 9 8 with varying division.
Estancia by Alberto Ginastera. The refrain of "Los peones de hacienda", at rehearsal numbers 62, 65, 67, 68, 69+3, and 70 is marked "9 8 (3 4 - 3 8)"; the remainder is variously in 6 8, 3 4, 5 8, and 7 8.
"Erotomania" by Dream Theater, the first 3 bars of the intro progression are in 10 8.
"Happiness is a Warm Gun", by The Beatles. The first part includes 4 4, 2 4, and 5 4; the second part includes 3 8; and third part 9 8 and 10 8. The finale includes 1 bar of 12 4. "[T]he changes of meter either between or within every section establish themselves as a kind of leitmotif." (Alan Pollack's 'Notes On' series, no. 136).
A próle do bébé No. 2, by Heitor Villa-Lobos. A measure in the fourth movement, "O cachorrinho de borracha", is in 13 8, divided into 6 8 or 3 4, and 7 8. Two measures in the ninth movement, "O lobozinho de vidro", are also in 13 16.
"Deux moulins", published in the collection Airs a III. IIII. V. et VI. parties (première livre, 1608) by Claude Le Jeune. The third section, Chant à 3, is barred as 20 4; the rest of the piece is in 21 4.
"The Art Of Dying" by Gojira (2008) cycles from 4 4 to 2 4 to 21 16 (grouped 5+5+5+3+3) and repeats this pattern during the intro and beginning of the song.
"Deux moulins" by Claude Le Jeune, published in Airs a III. IIII. V. et VI. parties (première livre, 1608). The first two sections, Rechant à 3 and Réprise à 5, are barred as 21 4; the last section of the piece is in 20 4.
In the Dead of the Night suite by UK, "contains an instrumental refrain in 21 16".
^"The meters of these three measures are 11 8, 4 4, and 7 8, respectively. The special effect of running even eighth notes accented as if triplets against the grain of the underlying backbeat is carried to a point more reminiscent of Stravinsky than of the Beatles" (Alan Pollack's 'Notes On' series, no. 183).
^Telemann 1728, 37; Telemann 1970, 14-15; Zohn 2004, 247: "the 'Brobdingnagische Gigue'--no doubt inspired
by the English jig Gulliver plays with great effort on a sixty-foot spinet--is danced in giant steps, trudging along in twenty-four semibreves to the bar."
^"Split Open and Melt". Phish.net. April 10, 2013. Retrieved 2013. "SOAM's" complex improv segment is notorious for its time signature, which involves three sections of eight eighth-notes and then a fourth section with nine eighth-notes in a steady pulse (listen to Fishman's hi-hat)
^Davis, Chip (1987). Fresh Aire II. Omaha, Nebraska, United States: Dots and Lines Ink. p. 55.
^Telemann 1728, 40; Zohn 2004, 247: "The 'Reverie der Laputier, nebst ihren Aufweckern' . . . teases the reader with a nonsensical time signature, 4, in an apparent allusion to the Laputians' love for, and incompetence in, mathematics." Dietz Degan, the editor of Telemann 1970, transcribes this piece simply in 2 2.
Andriessen, Louis. 1976. De Staat. Hawkes Pocket Scores 1234. London, Paris, Bonn, Johannesburg, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, and New York: Boosey & Hawkes.
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Bartók, Béla. 1993. Concerto for Orchestra, revised edition, edited by Peter Bartók. Full score. London and New York: Boosey & Hawkes.
Bernstein, Leonard. 1993. The Age of Anxiety: Symphony No. 2, for piano and orchestra, after W. H. Auden, revised version, full score, corrected edition. [New York]: Jalni Publications, Inc., Boosey & Hawkes.
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Birtwistle, Harrison. 1996. The Cry of Anubis, for tuba and orchestra. Hawkes Pocket Scores 1292. London: Boosey & Hawkes Music Publishers Limited.
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Britten, Benjamin. 1941. Diversions for Piano (Left Hand) and Orchestra, Op. 21. London: Boosey & Hawkes.
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Britten, Benjamin. 1945b. Passacaglia, opus 33b, from the opera Peter Grimes. London: Boosey & Hawkes.
Britten, Benjamin. 1956. Canticle III (Still Falls the Rain), op. 55, for tenor, horn, and piano. Words by Edith Sitwell. London, Paris, Bonn, Cape Town, Sydney, Toronto, Buenos Aires, New York: Boosey & Co., Ltd.
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Fenlon, Sean. 2002. "The Exotic Rhythms of Don Ellis". DMA diss. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, Peabody Institute. ISBN0-493-60448-0.
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Holst, Gustav. 1977. A Choral Fantasia, op. 51, edited by Imogen Holst. London, Zürich, Mainz, and New York: Ernst Eulenburg Ltd.
Holst, Gustav. 1979. The Planets: Suite for Large Orchestra, op. 32. New edition prepared by Imogen Holst and Colin Matthews. Hawkes Pocket Scores 22. London: Boosey & Hawkes.
Howard, Patricia. 1969. The Operas of Benjamin Britten: An Introduction. New York and Washington: Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers.
Le Jeune, Claude. 1951-59. Airs (1608), edited by D. P. Walker, with an introduction by François Lesure and D. P. Walker, 4 vols. in 3. Publications of the American Institute of Musicology: Miscellanea 1. Rome: American Institute of Musicology.
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