April 2019

Techniques: Odd Meters

Although often used in various kinds of non-Western music, songs with odd meters—rhythms with an off number of beats in each measure—have also been employed for distinctive grooves in modern jazz, progressive rock and other genres.

National Standards: 1-3, 5-7, 9, 11


Have the class read Techniques: Introducing… Odd Meters (page 24 of the student edition).

Key points in the article:

    • “Take Five” by Paul Desmond is one of the most popular jazz recordings of all time, and is written in 5/4 time
    • 4/4 is called “common time” because it is the most common. Even time signatures are more familiar to the ear, odd meters take some practice
    • Progressive rock bands of the 1970s used odd meters consistently such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin


Example 1

Start by reviewing what the top number and bottom number in each time signature means. Go through each measure with your students one by one. It helps to say the numbers out loud as you count through measures.

Example 2

Continue to go through each measure one by one, having students play on instruments if available.

Example 3

Play “Take Five” by Paul Desmond. Have students get a feel for the groove and timing. Then work through each measure in example three one at a time, as a class.

Example 4

Play “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Have students get a feel for the groove and timing. Play each measure on a piano, counting through the 5/8 and 7/8 measures “one – two – one – two – three,” and “one – two – one – two – one – two – three,” respectively.

Example 5

Play “Red River Valley.” Read through the example with students.