Music in 5-4 time

Odd Meters

Listening to the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s iconic jazz album, Time Out, got me thinking about “Odd Meters”. Odd meters are what musicians call exceptional time signatures.

In musical notation, a bar is a segment of time defined by a given number of beats. Each beat is assigned a particular note value or duration. A piece of music consists of several bars (usually of the same length), and the number of beats in each bar is specified at the beginning of the score by the top number of a time signature, while the bottom number indicates the note value of the beat. For example, a waltz is written in 3/4 time (spoken as, “three-four time”). The top number e.g. “3” means three beats in every bar, the bottom number e.g. “4” indicates that each beat has a quarter note duration. This gives awaltz it’s typical, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 rhythm and feel.

What’s the relationship with the musical theory lesson and Dave Brubeck?

Some music written in odd meter sounds like an intellectual exercise. The music of Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond is a notable exception. Recognised as one of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded, Time Out sold over a million records in 1961 and continues to be popular 50 years after it was written. Every track on this album is written in a different time signature. “Take Five” has become arguably the most popular piece of music by far written in 5/4. Written by and featuring Paul Desmond on Alto Saxophone, Take Five was a platinum number one hit on Billboard’s charts, a serious feat for a jazz track,

Dave Brubeck composed Unsquare Dance written in the 7/4 time signatures. He used the rhythmic influences from Eastern Europe to create a very fresh sound previously unfound in jazz.

Other notable music in 5/4 signatures include:

  • Money by Pink Floyd.
  • How Deep the Father’s Love for Us recorded by Sarah Sadler.
  • Theme tunes from Mission Impossible, Mod Squad, and The Incredibles.
  • River Man recorded by Nick Drake.
  • In Mixolydian Mode (No. 48) by Bartók.
  • English Roundabout by XTC.
  • Do What You Like by Blind Faith (Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood etc.).