Composing and performing in odd time signatures are great ways to get outside of your go-to tricks and tendencies as a musician. While odd time signatures may not be comfortable for many of us, they offer something unique and refreshing, and, as we all know, rhythm and feel are everything when it comes to music!
Seven four (7/4) simply means that each measure of music will include seven beats, with the quarter note receiving the beat. If you’re having trouble with the feel, try this rhythm:
It’s a simple pattern of three quarter notes followed by another three quarter notes, offset by an eighth note, that will work over any 7/4 groove. Try clapping it along with a song in 7/4 (we’ve got tons of them below!) or with a metronome to help to lock you into the tempo. With enough practice, this ends up sounding as natural as a beat in common time!
Let’s analyze a few of our favorite songs with 7 beats per measure and talk about what makes them click, so you can get started adding these ideas into your own music right away! When we were putting together this list of songs, we were greatly aided by our good friend Etan Rosenbloom over at ASCAP, who by the way, makes incredible Spotify playlists, including this one.
1. Pink Floyd — “Money”
In my world, this is the most famous popular example of 7/4 in the book. The iconic bass riff of Pink Floyd’s “Money” has echoed through time, and its off-kilter feel provides the perfect backdrop for the lyrical theme, as well as the honky sax solo before the guitar takes over.
From an arrangement standpoint, take a listen to the way the comping instruments participate: The heavy tremolo guitar enters every measure and helps to stabilize the feel, while the keyboards and wah-wah guitar stab intermittently throughout. The heavy 7 is alleviated by a change in the guitar riff, and finally resolves to a blustery 6/8 feel for the guitar solo.
2. Alice in Chains — “Them Bones”
For a bit more of a gloomy-and-doomy take on the 7/4 feel, let’s take a look at this number from Alice in Chains. Unlike “Money,” the vocal melody sustains over the riff, which works well since this is a heavily syncopated song, rhythmically. Take a listen to how the 7/4 alternates with a more common 4/4 time — it can slip right past you if you’re not listening closely. “Them Bones” is a perfect example of how to make 7/4 rock!
3. Radiohead — “2+2=5”
Radiohead’s ability to come up with songwriting ideas that are simultaneously simple and yet complex always blows me away. This song starts in a 7 pattern before drifting elsewhere, with a classically influenced minor-to-dominant finger style guitar pattern. Notice how the melody floats over the progression, but still hits the important guide tones for a comprehensive and sound structure. For a lesson in how to modulate from one chord to another, keep a steady rhythm in an odd time, and write a memorable melody over a complicated idea, look no further!
4. Bela Bartok — “Mikrokosmos Sz. 107, BB 105 – #149″
Hungarian composer Bela Bartok wrote this suite of 153 piano pieces between 1926 and 1939. The pieces range widely in difficulty, and this one is among the more challenging. But it’s also a prime example of 7/4. The melody takes a flowing eighth note feel, while the chords comp in a repeating pattern (remember that rhythmic idea I showed you earlier?).
5. DEVO — “Jocko Homo”
Most people will associate DEVO with the rise of the music video and their iconic song “Whip It” (we’re guilty too…). But those interested in a fascinating journey into one of America’s great art rock outfits are in for a treat. “Jocko Homo” has a wonky 7 rhythm that doesn’t exactly groove. It’s weird for the sake of, well, just being weird, I guess. It’s a fun song to count along to, and a cool way to picture writing in an odd meter without concern for catchiness or a melodic hook.
6. Intronaut — “Sunderance”
Prog rockers and metal bands are no strangers to complicated meters, but this riff-heavy jam from Intronaut is a really cool way to examine writing — odd meter notwithstanding. The 7/4 feel that starts the song is heavily subdivided, and the band continues to play with these subdivisions to keep the feel varied and interesting throughout. Even when the meter changes to 11/4 at around the 1-minute mark, we’ve already gone through several different feel changes. Writing with subdivisions in mind like this can keep your audience engaged and tapping their fingers, if not banging their heads.
7. Don Ellis Orchestra — “Pussy Wiggle Stomp”
If you’ve never heard a big band swing in 7, well, now you have! This Don Ellis romper is a joyful celebration of all things seven. The harmony harkens to swinging soul-jazz, with mile high trumpet leads and clapping to boot. Ellis, the bandleader and arranger, was infatuated with odd time signatures and made them a part of his artistic signature before passing away too young at the age of 44 from a heart condition. If you’re wondering how to make 7/4 feel really joyful, this is it.
8. The National — “Demons”
Hey, remember that 7/4 pattern I showed you earlier? Check out this low key rocker from The National — it’s all over that drum pattern, save for the last displaced eighth note. Here’s a cool way to approach easy going indie rock music. The harmony, strings, and synth washes combine nicely to take care of you, while the vocal serves to keep us rooted in the world of the song. Take note of how the drums drive the 7 feel, while the other instruments sustain and percolate.
9. CAN — “One More Night”
Here’s a cool example of a 7 pattern in a minimalist funk style groove, courtesy of German avant-garde krautrock outfit CAN. While CAN was not explicitly a funk band, one could surmise that the key to something feeling funky is its proper use of space and time, and this feels right at home with any other mid-1970s groove, at least from the perspective of the rhythm section. For those looking to gain entry to the wild world of CAN, this might be a great place to start. Or this.
10. Broken Social Scene — “7/4 (Shoreline)”
What a better place to end this rundown of songs in 7 with a song that’s actually called “7/4”? Broken Social Scene is a fascinating, enigmatic group that exemplifies everything that I love about the music community. The reason I wanted to focus on this song is because the 7 is groovy and accessible, and anyone who has a band of their own can glean some really strong songwriting advice from this one. If you’re considering writing in an odd meter for the first time, why not try covering this first? It’s ripe for jamming, morphing, and collaborating!
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