Top 10 Songs with Unusual / Odd Time Signatures

Time signatures are also known as meter signatures and measure signatures.

"Unusual" time signature is any time signature other than simple time signatures. The most common simple time signatures are 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4. Simple time signatures are with top numerals of 2, 3, or 4 and bottom numerals of 2, 4, or 8, and compound time signatures with top numerals of 6, 9, or 12 and bottom numerals 4, 8, or 16.

Unusual (odd) time signatures are meters like 5/4, 6/4, 19/4, 7/8, 9/8, 13/8, 13/16, 21/16, 23/16, 17/32, 21/32, 1/64, and more.
What's that? It's every drummer's dream and nightmare.

Progressive metal and rock are full with unusual time signatures but prog subgenres aren't the only ones that use them.
Bands like Dream Theater, Tool, and Radiohead are very frequent users of unusual time signatures and they have many songs for this list but I am starting with one song per band.

The Top Ten Songs with Unusual / Odd Time Signatures

1 Money - Pink Floyd

It's predominantly in 7/4 time (guitar solo is in the usual 4/4)

2 The Dance of Eternity - Dream Theater

It's dream theater of course it's gonna have something hard to play and weird. duh

Dream Theater have many songs to choose from for this list. But I have chosen this instrumental because it goes through over 128 time signature changes in 6:13 minutes. It contains beat groupings in 8, 7, 6, 5, and 4.
Was this song the dream of the Dream Theater drummer? Or his nightmare?

3 Bleed - Meshuggah

Haha, pretty nice djenty!

13/16. Perfect drumming by Tomas Haake.
The bass drum pattern is a repeated sequence of 13/16, followed by one measure of 4/4.
Haake stated that this song was "a big effort for me to learn, I had to find a totally new approach to playing the double bass drums to be able to do that stuff. I had never really done anything like that before like the fast bursts that go all the way through the song basically. So I actually spent as much time practicing that track alone as I did with all of the other tracks combined. It's kind of a big feat to change your approach like that and I'm glad we were able to nail it for the album. For a while though we didn't even know if it was going to make it to the album."
He plays so fluently that at first listen it may not seem difficult to the listener but it's really very intricate.

4 Tom Sawyer - Rush

Instrumental section is in 7/8 with some 13/16.

5 Supper's Ready - Genesis

9/8 is used in the movement "Apocalypse in 9/8". The subtitle even tells the time measure.

6 Schism - Tool

The band described it as largely in  6 1 ⁄ 2/8 (what?! )
The song has several different times - the verse contains alternating measures of 5/8 and 7/8, while the chorus contains alternating measures of 6/8 and 7/8.

7 Spoonman - Soundgarden

Intriguing song too, one about the man of spoons...

It's about a real street performer in Seattle the band knew. He appears in the video to play the spoon solo.

The intro, verses, drum solo and parts of the bridge are in 7/4 (sometimes transcribed as 14/8). The spoons' solo is in 6/8.
Choruses, parts of the bridges and guitar solo are "usual" - in 4/4.

8 Them Bones - Alice in Chains

The verse is in 7/8

9 Tubular Bells, Part 1 - Mike Oldfield

The first riff in 15/8 is made of two bars - the first bar is in 7/8, the second bar is in 8/8.

10 Paranoid Android - Radiohead

Half of the songs here I have on DSi game...

It includes 7/8 and flips between 4/4 time and 7/8 time about 13 times.

The Contenders

11 The Art of Dying - Gojira

It includes 21/16. It cycles from 4/4 to 2/4 to 21/16 (grouped 5+5+5+3+3) and repeats this pattern during the intro and beginning of the song.

12 The Becoming - Nine Inch Nails
13 The Count of Tuscany - Dream Theater
14 The Sound of Muzak - Porcupine Tree
15 A Change of Seasons - Dream Theater

Not only loaded with odd time signatures but unpredictable changes all throughout the entire song. I remember the first time listening to it and even after listening to it several or many times it is difficult to comprehend the brilliance and the way it was written. I have listened to mostly Progressive Rock for many years. Dream Theater is something really special and right there with the UK giants of the 70s. This is a large chunck of further proof.

15/8 is used for the 1st verse of the song, broken up into 2 bars - a 6/8 and a 9/8 which equals 15/8 (confirmed by Mike Portnoy himself).
For the 2nd verse he used 2 bars of 6/8 (which equals 12/8) and a bar of 3/8.
Later in the song there are more alternations between all these meters, grouped in a different way.

16 Thick as a Brick - Jethro Tull

Oh interesting I did not know that.

The second section of the first part of the song is in 10/4

17 Ticks and Leeches - Tool

The song is in 7/8. One of Danny Carey's best, if not the best

18 All You Need is Love - The Beatles

Verses are in 7/4

19 Question! - System of a Down
20 Windowpane - Opeth

Windowpane is in 4/4

21 Take Five - The Dave Brubeck Quartet
22 Starless - King Crimson
23 New Millennium Cyanide Christ - Meshuggah

It repeats the pattern of five bars of 23/16 and one bar of 13/16 from the start.
Sounds like fun...

24 Moon - Bjork
25 Playing In the Band - Grateful Dead

10/4, notated as 4+2+4/4

26 Tarkus - Emerson, Lake & Palmer

In Manticore, the 5th movement of Tarkus.


27 Outshined - Soundgarden

Verses are in 7/4

28 Master of Puppets - Metallica

Every 4th bar in the verse is in 21/32 I believe

29 Theme from Mission: Impossible - Lalo Schifrin

The whole song is in 5/4 time. I never fully realized this until I went back one day and paid attention to the meter.

30 Blackened - Metallica
31 A Headache and a Sixty-Fourth - Ron Jarzombek

It's in the title (1/64) - the song has a constant time signature pattern of the "usual" 4/4 and the "unusual" 1/64.
The song is from his album Solitarily Speaking of Theoretical Confinement. Many of his songs with Blotted Science also have odd meters.

32 15 Step - Radiohead

It is in 5/4.

33 The Grudge - Tool
34 Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper - Dream Theater
35 Happiness is a Warm Gun - The Beatles
36 2 + 2 = 5 - Radiohead
37 Sat In Your Lap - Kate Bush
38 Eleven - Primus

The song is mainly in 11/8, the chorus has one bar in 9/8, and after two bars of 11/8 - a bar in 12/8.


39 Crystalline - Bjork
40 Hollow - Björk
41 Just Like You Imagined - Nine Inch Nails
42 La Villa Strangiato - Rush

Some sections are in 7/8

43 Fandango - Pain of Salvation
44 Voices - Dream Theater

The opening riff is in 9/8 confirmed by Mike Portnoy himself.

45 March of the Pigs - Nine Inch Nails
46 The Eleven - Grateful Dead

One of the songs they played frequently live in the late 1960s; they named it "The Eleven" because it's in 11/8 time.

47 Get to You - The Byrds

From The Notorious Byrd Brothers. The song is in 5/4 and occasionally switches to 3/4. Another song on that album, Tribal Gathering, is also in 5/4 (occasionally switching to 4/4); that song in particular reminds me a lot of Dave Brubeck's Take Five.

48 Words (Between the Lines of Age) - Neil Young

The intro and the guitar solo breaks are all in 11/8 time.

49 Turn It on Again - Genesis

The verses are in 13/4 (or 6/4+7/4), while the intro and bridge is in 9/4 (or 4/4+5/4). It grooves surprisingly well considering it's so complex.

50 Esperanto - Shawn Lane

There's a lot of time sig changes in this song, there are parts in 25/16 21/16 5/4 3/2 1/2 15/32.

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