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.
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.