Themes and Variation: Odd Time Songs (Episode 51)

Time signatures are an interesting and arguably necessary part of our musical language. They provide the grid against which we place rhythmic values and ideas, letting us know each time “1” comes back around as we count along. They are, at least in part, responsible for the feel of a piece of music. They each come with expectations — 3/4 is often indicative of something waltz-like, 12/8 usually implies a shuffle, 2/2 a march, and of course, good ol’ 4/4 is where many listeners and performers feel most at home. But what about those time signatures that stray from the familiar simple and compound varieties?

In episode 51 of our podcast, Themes and Variation, Carter and I are joined by Joey Lefitz, beloved friend, Soundfly Mentor, and superb drummer to discuss “Odd Time Songs.”

The episode is anchored by selections from the catalogs of Alice in Chains, Sting, and Conlon Nancarrow. If that last name means anything to you, then you know I may very well have bitten off more than I chew with this one, but I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourself.

Listen to Episode 51 of Themes and Variation in its entirety right here:

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Episode 51 Highlights

1. Carter on soloing in odd time:

Carter: “Like for me personally, when I listen to like amazing improvisers, I hear more of a command of the form and the style and everything if you’re able to flow effortlessly through time and space and everything like that.”

2. Joey on getting comfortable playing in odd time:

Joey: “Ideally, you get comfortable enough with a piece of music that you’re not think… like you’re just hearing the song. If I can be listening to the melody of a song and only thinking about that and just listening to the music around me, that’s ideal regardless of the time signature.”

3. Mahea on an often overlooked function of music:

Mahea: “This type of music, to me, shows music’s ability to function as a medium — go with me here… through which we can explore order, chaos, patterns, and like existence. It’s mysterious and interesting that this can exist. By writing this, he was learning stuff that he wasn’t always expecting to.”

Join the Conversation

One of our favorite things about our podcast is the fact that the conversation around each theme is so much bigger than the episode itself. We’d love to hear which songs you would have chosen for this episode! Share them with us on Twitter or, if you’re a Soundfly subscriber, in the #podcast channel on Slack.

Plus, with every new episode of Themes and Variation, we launch a new Spotify playlist that includes the songs mentioned in this episode and more. Here’s this episode’s Spotify playlist!

We’ll see you in a couple weeks with a new theme, new guests, and some new songs to break down. If you have any comments, questions, or theme suggestions, drops us a (bass) line at [email protected]!

RJD2: From Samples to Songs

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