4.3 Beat Patterns – irregular time signatures

Irregular meters are when there are a mixture of simple and compound beats within the time signature: for example 7/8 or 5/8 or 11/16. The video explains the potential dangers and suggests some solutions. The basic rule is that the gesture should move continuously, therefore the speed of movement must be slower in the long beats than in the short beats. Irregular meters are also sometimes referred to as “complex” or “odd” or “asymmetric”.

With irregular meters, there is always a question about what value of beat to give as a preparatory gesture. If the time signature is 7/8, grouped as 2+2+3, is the final preparatory gesture a quarter note or a dotted quarter note? The answer will depend on the individual circumstance, and both solutions may be possible. More often than not, we would suggest that giving shorter beat values as preparatory gestures will be the most helpful. In the Bernstein excerpt which follows, the time signature is 7/8 in a 2+2+3 grouping, and a fairly brisk tempo, so the conductor gives 2 quarter note preparatory gestures. 

Scroll to Top