Hello, I write contemporary classical music (a bit experimental) mostly with Sibelius and often struggle with time signatures, i.e. I'll put the notes down and it plays back rhythmically the way I'd like, but it doesn't often fit into a standard 4/4 time signature/meter for instance. 

I tend to think that the music has its own internal rhythm, but tempos and rhythms often change, so wonder if I should just leave it in 4/4 time, or put in time signature changes every few bars.  A goal is to create a score that is relatively easy to read and could be played by real musicians. 

Any "new music" classical music composers out there care to comment? 

I've looked at scores by Wuorinen and Boulez as a reference point.  Sometimes it baffles me how musicians count/read it when there aren't obvious downbeats sometimes, or when the score has time signature changes every few bars.  Not sure what defines a readable score in this genre hehe.

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Replies

  • Hi eboats,

    I write a lot of music in various non-standard time signatures, and it usually boils down to me how best to use time signatures for two reasons: 1) to highlight where phrases begin and end, and 2) readability for the performer. I find that usually it is better to use an unusual time sig than to just select a 4/4 sig and let the phrasing fall where it may, though I have done both

    Best - Gav

  • A professional musician can easily read any combination of  standard time sigs and a whole lot that aren't standard, I would say use whatever makes the most sense to you. If the players are getting paid they won't complain too much (they like a challenge) although they might politely ask what exactly you had in mind there in measure 55.

  • Thanks!  As you said Gav, I tend to think in phrases not time signatures.   Honestly, sometimes I'd like to start a new time signature with each phrase, but am leery of too much complication in the notation to try to keep it relatively readable.  I'm not a professional so feel like I have a lot to learn as far as rhythm notation, so good learning how other folks think about it. 

  • Hi eboats, I don't think you should be shy of varying time sigs, if it is appropriate to the understanding of the phrasing. In case it helps, you might look up my piece Underground River Ride, which is on this site, for example. I am not shy

  • +1--to me very good advice:)

    Thanks Bob

    https://soundcloud.com/bob-morabito

    Gav Brown said:

    Hi eboats,

    I write a lot of music in various non-standard time signatures, and it usually boils down to me how best to use time signatures for two reasons: 1) to highlight where phrases begin and end, and 2) readability for the performer. I find that usually it is better to use an unusual time sig than to just select a 4/4 sig and let the phrasing fall where it may, though I have done both

    Best - Gav

  • Dave, I looked at your St Clements Isle - thanks for sharing and very readable.   Looks like you create an empty 2/4 measure for example if you need a 2 beat pause, so you can start your next phrase on a 1 count.  I like how you use time signatures to delineate the start of phrases - it does seem like that makes for a more readable score.

    P.S.  just curious what your workflow was.  Did you create the score in a notation program and import Midi into a DAW for the playback, or did you do both notation and playback in the same software?

  • This is quite lovely and adheres to what I think is the highest standard one can attain when writing in non-standard time signatures - that the unusual time is not perceptible while listening - kudos!

    Dave "NO STANDARDS" Dexter said:

    You probably shouldn't worry too much about players. Knowing signatures is as big a part of sight reading as the notes itself, otherwise you end up with a "all the right notes, not necessarily in the right order" scenario.

    I was using 4/4 for everything until I started really listening and realising it made the emphasis all wrong. It would probably be played fine, but communicating where important passages start and stop will make a difference.

    To tout my own work as a possible example: https://soundcloud.com/davedextermusic/st-clements-isle

    I attached the score. Obviously it's not 4/4 to 7/13 to 45/3 or anything mad, and it's not contemporary new music in style, but the beats per bar are constantly changing to ensure the phrases are delineated. No problem at all. Another piece goes to 7/4 for one bar, which raised eyebrows, but played with no problems and it simply felt the correct signature to use.

  • As a counter-balance to what's been said already, there is an interesting psychological ploy to be had by the composer in writing accents/stresses that go against the beat and signature, as a way of possibly affecting ( in a positive way ) a performance by a player. Are there any players out there who can shed any light on how they react to time signature based accents/phrasing as opposed to unusual accents within a regular beat/signature - is there any difference in performance anxiety for example, that translates in performance to something a composer can use? How does a player conceive and experience emotionally, a musical line that straddles bar lines in unusual ways as opposed to (say) simple 4 bar phrases? I know from my own experiences as a player, that I approach different ways of writing with different mindsets. Of course it goes without saying, the end result should be the same musically, no matter how it is written, but from a composer perspective, signatures are the box our ideas are presented in and as such are signifiers that have import.

    One can't help but think about 16thC vocal music in this regard and the elaborate rhythmical counterpoint which in some cases (Morleys' secular music for example) turned the barline ( and by extension, the signature) into a seemingly impotent convention.

    Just food for thought....

  • You're too kind Ray, thank you....dinner...tonight??

    Ray said:

    Mike,

    I very much enjoy you input on threads like this. So gentle, diplomatic and insightful. This I suggest, only possible through not only deep study of the subject but also, experience as a performer. Whether the particular reader being addressed takes your points onboard or not you can be assured someone else will be.

    I mostly agree with everything you say but have little theoretical training. For me, if it sounds right, it is right.

    Thanks 

    Ray

    Contemporary new music time signatures
    Hello, I write contemporary classical music (a bit experimental) mostly with Sibelius and often struggle with time signatures, i.e. I'll put the note…
  • Hey Dave,  respect yeah, but I also thought he looked quite nice today, so I chanced my arm....:-)

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