Watch the Changing Time Signatures online guitar lesson by Vicki Genfan from Acoustic Rhythm Survival Guide
Most music in the Western world is in 4/4 time. Our brains and bodies are very used to the feel of this and can easily move to pulses that are grouped in 2's and 4's.
One way to bring a 'fresh' feel to your song or accompaniment is to try playing in a different time signature. 3/4 or 6/8 are the next most common time signatures – and we tend to be pretty comfortable playing and listening to music in these time signatures as well (just because you're playing in a 3/4 time doesn't mean you're playing a Waltz).
TRY THIS: Take a song you know that's in 4/4 and play it in 3/4 or 6/8. Does it work? How does it feel? Do you have difficulty phrasing the lyrics and melody? What if you played only one section of the song in the new time signature? How does that sound and feel to you?
Odd Meters: To really shake things up, let's look at what's referred to as 'ODD METERS' for a moment. We'll look at 5/4 and 7/4. These time signatures can seem daunting to us, but I'll show you a way that I've found that makes feeling these time signatures, and hence, playing them, really easy.
Since we're already comfortable feeling groupings of 2 and 3 notes we're going to use syllables to represent each note and take away the need to count with numbers.
- For groupings of 2 we'll use the syllables, 'TA-KI'.
- If we're counting to 4, then we'll say, 'TA-KI-TA-KI'.
- For groupings of 3 we'll use the syllables, 'GA-MA-LA'.
So – let's put that together and count a measure of 5/4.
We have two options... we can divide it into a group of 2 and then 3: Ta-ki-Ga-ma-la
OR we can divide it into a group of 3 and then 2: Ga-Ma-La-Ta-Ki.
The final step here is to give a slight accent to the first syllable of each group, ie; GA-ma-la-TA-ki OR TA-ki-GA-ma-la
NOW – Take each variation and just with words, repeat over and over so you begin to get the feel and flow of this pattern. Remember, that's all it is – a pattern. A pattern of 2 and 3, and these are patterns that our brain and body are already familiar with!
1 GA-ma-la-TA-ki GA-ma-la-TA-ki GA-ma-la-TA-ki GA-ma-la-TA-ki
2 TA-ki-GA-ma-la TA-ki-GA-ma-la TA-ki-GA-ma-la TA-ki-GA-ma-la
To apply this to a strumming pattern on the guitar, try playing the low bass note on the accented syllables and strumming on the quieter syllables. You can alternate the bass notes. Say the syllables out loud while you play.
Now, here's how we'd do it with 7/4: