Music Composition 5: Odd Meters

by Gary Guttman · 7 comments

In the broadest sense, a meter is simply a description of the rhythmic feel of the music. For example, a 4/4 meter at a moderate tempo might be described as having a “walking” feel. Likewise, a 6/8 meter might be described as having a “hopping” feel. When composing, our choice of meters is always a consideration, even if we are not consciously thinking of them. (For a thorough explanation of meters, check out our new Secret Composer software.)

Some times common meters such as 4/4 or 6/8 aren’t capable of expressing the rhythmic momentum we seek. At these times you might want to use an odd meter. Technically, an odd meter is a combination of simple and compound meters. Examples of simple meters are 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4. Examples of compound meters are 3/8, 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8. Therefore, if you were to follow a 2/4 meter with a 3/8 meter, you would have a 7/8 meter, which is an odd meter.

Besides producing a unique feel, odd meters can provide useful tools for composers. If a composer is struggling for inspiration, using odd meters can open up a whole new world of possibilities. Listen to this short example using an odd meter.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Notice how the rhythmic pulse of the music has a unique quality to it? Each measure in this piece actually contains a 3/4 meter plus a 3/8 meter (except for one bar in the middle and the last full bar). Technically, those beats add up to 9/8, which is not ordinarily an odd meter. The beats of a typical 9/8 meter are usually grouped as follows:123­-123­-123.

But in this example, we grouped the beats in this fashion: 12­-12­-12­-123. To make the performance of this music easier, we would actually write the meter as 3/4 + 3/8. Every single bar would then contain these two different meters.

While rhythms and meters are not the first things that come to mind when humming a memorable piece of music, they are absolutely essential to the success of the composition. Understanding how to make the most of unique rhythms and meters will greatly enhance your musical creations.

Be Sociable, Share!
Baba June 3, 2009 at 9:39 pm

Thanks Gary for your speedy reply.


Baba June 5, 2009 at 2:50 am

Hi Gary,

Could you please give me an example of the basic approach to vocal composition, be it religious, R&B, or pop? I’ll appreciate both visual and audio tips.

Gary Guttman June 6, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Hi Baba,

It’s difficult to give you a quick answer on this. It would be hard for me to illustrate this lesson using the vocal samples I own – I’m used to working with live singers. If I could figure out a clear way of teaching this on the internet, I’ll tackle it at a later date.

I want to make you aware that I added a new blog post called Requests. If anyone has specific topics they would be interested in having me write about, they can post their requests on that page. This way, we won’t have random requests posted on random topics.

I’ll try to work on the topics that are most requested. I can’t guarantee when or if I will get to them, but at least this will give me an idea of what people are interested in learning.

– Gary

Adam Malin June 20, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Wow, what an amazing creation and accomplishment Gary, congratulations on this stunning work. It will take me months…no, years…to get through this material. Thank you for your service to musicians and composers everywhere.

Gary Guttman June 20, 2009 at 8:58 pm

Hey Adam,

Thanks for the great compliment. It’s rewarding for me as well.

And take as much time as you need!

– Gary

Vishnu s August 26, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Hi, I’m Inu. I am a student in ISI (School of Art in Indonesia),,I took Music Composition as my first graduade, and now, i’am on 3th years…I want to know:
1 How could we get the climaks?
2 How do we choose the most effective structure for our music?
3 What the way to get your software?
Thank you,,,I really learn a lot from you…

Gary Guttman August 27, 2009 at 1:04 am

Hi Inu,

I’ll try to answer your questions the best I can. First, I’m not sure if I understand your first question. I think you’re asking how to build to a musical climax. And the answer to that is related to your second question about musical structure.

Because we experience music in time, the composer has complete control over how the audience experiences a composition. (I explain this in further detail in one of my earlier blog posts And it is the form and structure of the composition that determines the way a piece of music flows in time.

There are dozens of common musical forms that composers have used over the years, such as “ternary”, “rondo” and “sonata-allegro”. Ternary form has three parts: A, B and back to A. Rondo has a main theme that alternates with contrasting themes, such as A, B, A, C, A, D, A etc. And sonata-allegro form is a little more complicated, using the following elements: introduction, exposition, development, recapitulation and coda.

Serious study of all the musical forms can take years. What I would suggest you do is find the compositions that personally move you, and follow the forms they are using. Listen to how the piece is structured. Notice for how long the first theme is stated, how the melody is varied, when a second theme is introduced, how long it takes to get back to the first theme, and what elements are used to bring the music to a fulfilling ending.

As you can see, there are no simple answers to your questions. Yet you will be able to answer these questions yourself, as you listen to and analyze your favorite pieces of music. Composing music is a very personal act, and no one can better decide than yourself, what structure and elements should comprise your music.

As to your last question, you can purchase and download the Secret Composer software, simply by going to the “Buy” page on this site:

I hope my answers have helped.

– Gary

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: