I have 117 time signatures examples in songs from various genres that are not in 4/4 time. The examples I have are in 2/2, 2/4, 3/4, 6/8, 12/8, as well as odd signatures and polyrhythms. I’m up to 120 song examples and growing.
If you are a musician like me, then you probably find 4/4 time easy to play and write as it is the most common time signature in music. The 4/4 beat is so prevalent that it’s hard to feel any other rhythm.
That can be a problem if you need to play or write music in other time signatures. What you need is to hear familiar songs you like that are in time signatures other than 4/4 time.
Examples of various time signatures
There are a number of time signatures other than 4/4 time, also known as common time, that are also fairly common in music. They are:
2/2 time or cut time
2/4 time (the marching time)
3/4 time (the rhythm of waltzes)
They are the most common after 4/4 time. There are also what is known as odd time signatures examples of which are 7/4 and 11/8. Then there are time signatures known as polyrhythms which are songs that have more than one time signature.
Almost 2/3rds of the songs listed below are from the rock, or a closely related genre, with another 25% from country and folk. The other 9% or so of songs are from bluegrass, heavy metal, blues, and Christmas & children’s songs.
Focus on the songs you recognize and like. It’s much easier to write in time signatures other than 4/4 if you can “feel” the beats in songs you already know.
35 song examples in cut time, or 2/2 time signature
Songs with 2 beats per measure lasting for a 1/2 note each is called either cut time or 2/2 time. You may also see the term “ala breve” in reference to 2/2 time. Cut time is represented by the letter “C” with a vertical slash thru it. Here is the symbol which is more accurate than the graphic I made above:
Listed below are 19 rock songs, 11 country, 3 bluegrass, 1 folk and 1 Christmas song in 2/2 time. I have songs from Silverman’s Folk Encyclopedia listed for a lot of songs because most of them are traditional and the songwriter is unknown.
Albert Lee: Bullish Boogie, Country Boy
Beatles: All Together Now, Help, Magical Mystery Tour. Paperback Writer
Bob Dylan: Blowin’ in the Wind, Subterranean Homesick Blues
Buck Owens: I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail
Earl Scruggs: Foggy Mountain Breakdown
Grateful Dead: Dark Star, Fire on the Mountain, Friend of the Devil, It Must Have Been the Roses, Jack Straw, Ramble on Rose, Stella Blue, Tennessee Jed
Guy Clark: Heartbroke
Hank Garland: Sugarfoot Rag
Hank Snow: Golden Rocket
James Pierpoint: Jingle Bells
Jimmy Bryant: Stratosphere Boogie
Johnny Cash: Folsom Prison Blues
Led Zeppelin: Your Time Is Gonna Come
Little Feat: Dixie Chicken, Rocket in My Pocket, Spanish Moon, Willin’
Merle Travis: Smoke, Smoke, Smoke (That Cigarette)
Ricky Skaggs: Life’s Too Long (To Live Like This)
Silverman’s Folk Song Encyclopedia Vol II: Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, Mountain Dew, Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms
Simon & Garfunkel: Mrs. Robinson
11 song examples with a 2/4 time signature
Eight of the songs in 2/4 time are folk or traditional with 2 rock and 1 Christmas song.
Led Zeppelin: Bron-Y-Aur Stomp
Silverman’s Folk Song Encyclopedia Vol I: Peggy-O, The Gallow’s Pole, Joy to the World
Silverman’s Folk Song Encyclopedia Vol II: Little Birdie, Man of Constant Sorrow, Samson, Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad, I Know You Rider
Simon & Garfunkel: Kathy’s Song
Steve Earle: Goodbye
27 song examples with a 3/4 time signature
The 3/4 songs below are mostly rock tunes (17 of them). One of the two heavy metal songs in this article is below, as well as the only blues song I could find not in 4/4. The rest of the songs are country and Christmas songs, as well as the Star-Spangled Banner.
Beatles: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
Billy Joel: Piano Man
Bob Dylan: A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall, All I Really Want to Do, Mr. Bojangles, My Back Pages, The Times They Are A-Changing
Eric Clapton: River of Tears
Grateful Dead: To Lay Me Down
Hank Williams: Alone and Forsaken, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
James Taylor: Sweet Baby James
Led Zeppelin: Since I’ve Been Loving You
Merle Haggard: You Take Me For Granted
Rodney Crowell: The Last Waltz
Silverman’s Folk Song Encyclopedia Vol I: Amazing Grace, Greensleeves, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Silent Night, Holy Night,
Silverman’s Folk Song Encyclopedia Vol II: In the Pines I, The Star-Spangled Banner
Simon & Garfunkel: America, Scarborough Fair
Steve Earle: The Mountain
Travis Tritt: Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)
Unknown: Happy Birthday
Willie Nelson: Somebody Pick Up My Pieces
11 (+5 nursery) songs with a 6/8 time signature
I was hard-pressed to find songs in 6/8 time so I added some children’s \ nursery songs. The nursery songs are lame, but they are recognizable so it may help if you intend to write a song in this time signature.
Animals: House of the Rising Sun
Beatles: You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away
Bob Dylan: Rainy Day Women #12 and #35
Queen: We Are the Champions
David Gray: This Year’s Love
R.E.M.: Everybody Hurts
Mazzie Star: Fade Into You
Metallica: Nothing Else Matter
Seal: Kiss from a Rose
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Breaking the Girl
Don Henley: Please Come Home for Christmas
Unknown: The Farmer in the Dell, Hickory, Dickory, Dock, Humpty Dumpty, The Mulberry Bush, Jack and Jill.
8 song examples with a 12/8 time signature
This is another time signature where I could not find a lot of examples. Also, Whippin’ Post is the only song that is in two different lists in this article, though I only counted it once.
Allman Brothers: Whippin’ Post
Beatles: Norwegian Wood, Oh Darling!
Grateful Dead: Cryptical Envelopment, Truckin’
Led Zeppelin: Dazed and Confused
Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Texas Flood
17 song examples with unusual time
The Grateful Dead are some talented musicians. They know their stuff and write in a variety of time signatures including the 5 songs below.
I’m including the song Whippin’ Post because the introduction is in a different time signature than the rest of the song.
Below are eight songs in 7/4 time, five in 5/4, two in 9/8, and one each in 10/4 and 11/8 time.
Grateful Dead: Playing in the Band in 10/4, The Eleven in 11/8, Estimated Prophet, Lazy Lightning & Supplication in 7/4
Iron Maiden: Number of the Beast (first part) in 5/4
Jethro Tull: Living in the Past in 5/4
Jimi Hendrix: Manic Depression in 9/8 (most people label it as 3/4)
Lalo Schifrin: Mission Impossible Theme in 5/4
Led Zeppelin: Four Sticks & The Crunge in 5/4
Peter Gabriel: Solsbury Hill in 7/4
Pink Floyd: Money in 7/4
Seal: Dreaming in Metaphors in 7/4
Soundgarden: Spoonman in 7/4
Sting: I Was Brought to My Senses in 7/4, Big Lie Small World in 9/8
11 song examples with polyrhythms
I’m not going to go into detail of when and where the different time signatures occur in each song. It varies from song to song and it would take a lot of text to cover all the changes. Get yourself a copy of the sheet music if you are interested in writing songs with polyrhythms.
And look at the Grateful Dead in this list as well!
Blues for Allah: 4/4, 3/4 & 2/4
Cream Puff War: 4/4, 3/4 & 2/4
Pride of Cucamonga: 4/4 & 6/4
Unbroken Chain: there are many time signature changes
Uncle John’s Band: 4/4, 3/4 & 7/4
Viola Lee Blues: 4/4 & 2/4
St. Stephen: 4/4, 3/4 & 2/4
Terrapin Station: 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4
Happiness is a Warm Gun: 4/4, 2/4, 5/4, 3/8, 9/8, 10/8
Strawberry Fields Forever: end of chorus is 2/4, 3/4, 4/4
Here Comes The Sun: bridge varies between 6/8, 5/8, 4/4, 7/8
Allman Brothers, Whippin’ Post: the intro is in 11/8, rest is n 12/8
Notes on Silverman’s Folk Encyclopedia
I was not able to find folk songs examples online with time signatures not in 4/4 time, so I pulled out my 2 folk encyclopedia books. Here are some stats from those books:
- There are 1000+ songs between volumes I and II.
- About 50% had songs that were in 4/4 time.
- That left about 50% in other time signatures.
- Out of the 523 songs in other time signatures, there were 102 songs in 2/2 time, 159 in 2/4, 148 in 3/4, and 88 in 6/8
- There were also 28 songs either with polyrhythm or odd time signatures. For the odd time signatures, I saw examples of 3/2, 6/4, 7/8, 2/8, 3/8, 9/8 and one song without any time signature but with the notes “play freely” (Free Time).
You may want to get those books for the wealth of folk songs in them. But if you are only going to get one of the books, get Volume II since it has a bluegrass section and other songs that you will recognize.
It’s not easy when you first write a song in a time signature other than 4/4 time. Use some of your favorite songs above to give you an idea of the feel of these other time signatures.
Some of the songs above are in my AAA Song Form article, so take a look at that for details on those examples. Also, take a look at the 2 Wikipedia articles on Time Signatures and Unusual Time Signatures for more examples and theory on rhythm in music.