Most pop songs are written in what is known as 4/4 time, meaning the quarter note is equal to one beat and there are 4 beats in every bar of music. Because of this, when a band plays in concert, you'll often here a drummer count 1, 2, 3, 4 before starting a song. He (or she) is not only reminding the band members that the song is in 4/4, but also giving them an idea of the speed with which the quarter note moves through time, or what musicians call a measure. Interestingly, 4/4 isn't really the natural rhythm our bodies move in. The heartbeat, which moves in a very fast 6/8 (or 3/4) goes lub-dub-silence, lub-dub silence, etc. It's more like a waltz on speed. You can listen to what I mean here and count along with the heartbeat in a very fast 123, 123, 123 etc. like you are counting out a waltz rhythm gone nutso.
Despite this, almost every dance song, especially the big hits, are written in 4/4. It's so common and so ingrained in our bodies, many people have trouble dancing to any beat that's not written in 4/4. For that matter, many musicians have trouble counting or playing in any time signature other than 4/4.
I'm reminded of an old joke told in high school band rooms across the country. A bass player in the school jazz band is having trouble nailing the bass line of a certain song written in 7/8 time and the drummer says to him, "Man, can't you play in 7?!" The bassist responds, "Sure I can, watch: One, two, three, four, five, six, se, ven." (He just counted 8/8, or 4/4.)
But here are some rather well-known songs that most people can at least sing along with, if not play. I've indicated their time signatures. See if you can count them out along with the music. I've helped you out with the first one, halfway through the clip counting it along with the tune.
1. "The Ocean" by Led Zeppelin - The main riff is written in an alternating 4/4 and 7/8 beat. Other parts of the song are in the standard 4/4.
2. "Everything in its Right Place" by Radiohead - It's in 10/4, or you could count two bars of 5/4.
3. "Solsbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel "“ This one is in 7/4 and pretty easy to count all the way through. You could also count a bar of 4/4 and a bar of 3/4.
4. "March Of The Pigs" by Nine Inch Nails - is rockin' in 7/8 al the way through.
5. "Money" by Pink Floyd - Most of the song is in 7/4. Again, try counting alternating 4 and 3 if you have trouble with 7.
6. "All You Need Is Love" by the Beatles - While the chorus is in 4/4, the verse is mostly in 7/4, with a bar of 4/4 thrown in between verses.
7. What's especially interesting about the Led Zeppelin song, and which proves part of the point of this post, is how the band Fort Minor sampled this in their song "Dolla" and had to eliminate the part of the riff that is in 7/8, or rejigger it in some places to fit into 4/4. (I don't think I've ever heard a rap song written in an odd time signature.)
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