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Many cultures, in time, had odd meters as a natural part of their musical/rhythmic structures. Since we recorded couple songs of this nature in Balkan Vocals library, wanted to share some practical clues to approach it, if you are a total stranger to the concept and interested.

An odd meter, from the listeners point of view, is a form where you can’t count along the music in regular beats. Because there is an added half beat in every measure, the flow gets strange (espc for a strict 4-4 head) but the thing is still surprisingly (and a bit wildly) groovy.

Below, I will try give a way of voicing the related rhythmic flow in mind and two audio examples, so that you may then recognise it in things you hear; or experiment with it in your own creations. Contemporary DAW’s let you set odd meter signatures and compose accordingly, although they are not always excellent for this kind of experimentation (i.e. click accents etc).

Keep in mind this is not a music theory lesson and we have no intention of covering the concept in full depth or complying with any academical frame .

Have fun!
Kerem | Rast Sound


Odd meters can be broken down into two basic building blocks,
(1) a simple beat. the one everyone knows well = 2 x 8ths or a tap(+up)
(2) a compound beat = 3 x 8ths or a tap(+up+up)
Remember these throughout this short guide.

Say we are voicing these in our head as (1) = Ta-ka and (2) = Ta-ka-ta respectively.
Each syllable is a 8th, no more, no less.

Still here? 🙂 Let’s get going :

5/8 Odd Beat

The simplest form of an odd beat is a 5/8 signature.
This is made up of a (1) and a (2).
2 x 8th + 3 x 8th = 5 x 8th, hence a 5/8.

Now try voicing this in mind, like a riddle (every syllable = 8th, don’t speed up or slow down) :
Ta-ka + Ta-ka-ta / Ta-ka + Ta-ka-ta / …
(or a Tap-up + Tap-up-up)

Add slight accent on the beat starts (capital letter ones = Ta) or clap hands with the Ta.s. Repeating it, our brain starts getting the idea.
If you were able to do this, now you are voicing/counting a 5/8 beat in it’s basic form.

Hear it rough, reading the notes below : 

– The click (panned right) is the guide, i.e. try hearing the (1)+(2) form in it.
– Rough beat later (panned left), is kick and clap on the main accents w rare variation.

7/8 Odd Beat

– Couple songs of our Balkan Vocals library has this signature –
As you can guess now, here there are two (1)s and a (2).
2 x 8th + 2 x 8th + 3 x 8th = 7 x 8th, hence a 7/8.

Now try voicing this in mind, like a riddle (every syllable = 8th, don’t speed up or slow down) :
Ta-ka + Ta-ka + Ta-ka-ta / Ta-ka + Ta-ka + Ta-ka-ta / …
(or a Tap-up + Tap-up + Tap-up-up …)

Add slight accent on the beat starts (capital letter ones = Ta) or clap hands with the Ta.s. Repeating it, our brain starts getting the idea.

The thing with 7/8 is, there’s a bigger chance of variety in the order, i.e. the music you are listening  could be of a (1)+(1)+(2) form or say a (2)+(1)+(1) form too.

Try voicing the second in mind :
Ta-ka-ta + Ta-ka + Ta-ka / Ta-ka-ta + Ta-ka + Ta-ka / …
(or a Tap-up-up + Tap-up + Tap-up …)

Song named Idi Dago Sakash from our Balkan Vocals library, is an example of this one.
Try to catch the (2)+(1)+(1) structure in it, voicing it in mind along the song.

It should map like this :
I   -di  -i   +  da -a  + go -o   / …
Ta-ka-ta + Ta-ka + Ta-ka / Ta-ka  -ta + Ta-ka +Ta-ka

Hear it rough, reading the notes below : 

– The click (panned right) is the guide, i.e. try hearing the (2)+(1)+(1) form in it.
– Rough beat later (panned left), is kick and clap on the main accents w rare variation.
– Part of the song comes the last.

Jovano Jovanke is a harder one as the singer starts the (2)+(1)+(1) structure but rests in the last (1)s at parts of the song. Try catching it 🙂

9/8 Odd Beat

Commonly there are three (1)s and one (2). Remember the (2) can be in different places in the measure. 

(1)+(1)+(1)+)(2) is the most basic variation and you can try voicing/accenting the way explained in the above examples.

Other

There are more complex odd beats, going up to a puzzle-like rhtymic virtuosity (i.e. india rhtyms, jazz structures) but if understood, the above three may help you decypher the odd rhytmic structures of world music.

Remember the places of accents and ordering of (1) and (2)s can differ from song to song, culture to culture as you may expect.

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