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JackAdams's avatar

For those experts on music, how can a composition be created in "5/4" time?

Asked by JackAdams (6497points) August 23rd, 2008

I refer specifically to Dave Brubeck’s “TAKE FIVE,” which was written in “5/4” time, and I can’t see how that is done. It just doesn’t make “sense” to have that kind of a time signature. Please enlighten me, and don’t hesitate to “talk down” to me, when doing so. (I’m here to learn.)

August 23, 2008, 3:28 PM EDT

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19 Answers

anthony81212's avatar

I am probably equally, if not worse at theory than you. But… The 5/4 time worked, didn’t it?

marinelife's avatar

Here is a pretty simple explanation:

“Most songs are written in the 4/4 time-signature. This means that one measure has 4 beats, and the quarter note represents one beat. In english, this means that you can count along to these songs as “one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four” etc. Take John Lennon’s Imagine. You can calmly count along to this the way I just mentioned. Dave Brubeck and his quartet played jazz, but he felt that the music was too tame, that there was more to jazz than the usual 4/4 time and the occasional 3/4, or waltz, time. With Time Out, he managed to break away from the usual time signatures. The first track throws you into the deep immediately with a stunning 9/8 rhythm, grouped as 2–2-2–3, a rhythm that Brubeck picked up in Istanbul, as he heard street musicians play music in this rhythm. Then there was a track in 6/4 time, another track which time-signature constantly vacillates between 3/4 and 4/4, and then..! Then, there was a track in 5/4 time. So, there were 5 beats in one measure, and the quarter note represented one beat. The drums and piano make the song swing lightly, the syncopations made the 5/4 time sound strangely familiar, the saxophone sounded beautiful, the bass and the piano made sure you wouldn’t lose count, the bridge of the song was great. In other words, it was a damn fine song.”

wundayatta's avatar

one and two and three and four and five and (take breath)
one and two and three and four and five and

You can count to five over and over, the same as you can count to four or three or two over and over. You can count to six and seven and eight and nine over and over again, too.

A measure can be as many beats as you want it to.
Then you fit in the notes to the time signature.
There are endless possibilities for that.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

Pick up the old album “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. You can hear examples of music written in 5/4, 7/4, and even 11/4 time. FYI, the Pink Floyd song “Money” is written in 7/4 time.

MacBean's avatar

5/4 just means that there are five beats per measure and a quarter note gets one beat. Wikipedia’s article on time signatures looks pretty informative and simply phrased to me, if you want to see if that can teach you anything.

JackAdams's avatar

But when “TAKE FIVE” first came out in the early 1960s, reviewers referred to the 5/4 time signature as, and I am quoting verbatim, “DEFIANT.”

Why so?

August 23, 2008, 3:54 PM EDT

MacBean's avatar

Well, it’s not an easy time signature. When you’re working in 4/4 time, the math is simple; even I can do it. In one measure, you can have a whole note or two half notes or four quarter notes, and so on and so forth. 5/4 is outside the normal, simple duple and triple time signatures and they aren’t quite as easy to work with.

stratman37's avatar

I know this isn’t 5/4, but another famous non-4/4 song is Money by Pink Floyd. It’s in 7/4.

igerard's avatar

kum ba ya is also in 6/4. I love odd time signatures. The Florida State University Marching Chiefs did an awesome arrangement of Don Ellis’ Strawberry Soup in 1999. Forgot what the time signature is, I remember the drill being odd stepping.

dvchuck's avatar

Using odd time signatures such as 5/4, 6/4, 7/4, etc. makes for interesting rhythms, thus for interesting music. Sufjan Stevens writes a lot in asymmetrical time signatures. Dave Brubeck was one of the first.

igerard's avatar

Oh yeah, I was wondering why Dave Brubeck made a light bulb go off in my head. The Blue Devils did a Dave Brubeck Show in 2003. They won the championship that year. Def. one of my favorite shows, near Madison Scouts’ Malaguena show and The Cavaliers’ Spin Cycle show of 2003.

JackAdams's avatar

I want to publicly thank everyone who is contributing to my music education.

I could probably not receive more (nor better quality) help, if I was at Julliard.

August 23, 2008, 5:17 PM EDT

Scrumpulator's avatar

I once heard an accordion player play in 15/16 and 17/32, this guy was a genius, when the audience started to clap along, he stopped playing, explained that their feeble minds could not comprehend the beat structure and asked them to stop clapping, when they did, he started again.

wundayatta's avatar

Indian rythms are equally difficult to understand. The measures can be in 13, 15 and 17 or other strange timings. You just have to memorize the phrases. You have to memorize long pieces, and when the melody comes back round to the beginning (or the end), it seems like only the musicians know it exactly.

girlofscience's avatar

The tone of Sister Mary Cecelia still echoes in my skull. “5 beats in a measure; a quarter note gets one beat.”

It has nothing to do with a fraction. In fact, there’s not even a line between the numbers. That’s why it’s possible. The top number means the number of beats in a measure; the bottom number tells you which kind of note gets 1 beat.

(By the way, this didn’t need to be directed toward music “experts.” I could have answered it when I was 7.)

sndfreQ's avatar

Like most high-numbered meters, 5/4 is usually calculated as a “compound” meter; that is, it’s subdivided into a 2 beat cell coupled with a 3-beat cell.

7/4 is usually 4+3, etc. I usually count out a 5/4 beat as 10/8 (count out as eigth notes-i.e. 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 5 &). That is another way to “beat” the nonlinearity of the rhythm.

One of my favorite bands Radiohead has a great song called “15 steps” which is in 5/4; going to see them tomorrow!!!

lefteh's avatar

As sndfreQ said, 5/4 is generally a compound meter. A great example of this is the theme from Mission: Impossible. It is composed of a two-beat bar, followed by a three-beat bar. This pattern is continued throughout the piece. To simplify things, it is generally written in 5/4 when released to amateur musical groups.

sndfreQ's avatar

@lefteh: MI is 3+2 right? Subdivided into eighths it’s accented as 6/8 + 4/8: 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 1 2.

lefteh's avatar

Oops, yes, you are correct. Mistake on my part.

Same concept, though!

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