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Emma’s ‘Dream Phone’ – 3/4

As a starting point for examining alternative time signatures in dance music, let’s begin with E.m.m.a’s 2012 track ‘Dream Phone’, which is in 3/4 time. It’s a great example of a 3/4 beat as it’s an easy track to count along to, following the beat as “1-2-3-1-2-3″ rather than the “1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4″ count you’d use for a 4/4 track.

In an interview with Dummy last year, E.m.m.a explained that the track was her attempt to “change the world with a 3/4 tune shoehorned in a kind of post-dubstep [style]”, tripping up a few DJs in the process. Although the track was written in 3/4, it’s worth noting that there are a number of sections from around the 0:50 mark onwards where the timing would more easily be understood as 6/8. 3/4 and 6/8 are closely related, so the distinction is quite subtle, but this is pertinent for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s a reminder that time signature isn’t just defined by the setting in your DAW or sequencer, but the timing of the notes you play; just because your project’s set to 3/4 (or 4/4, or anything else) doesn’t mean you can’t play melodies in other time signatures.

Secondly, timing is about the listener’s perception just as much as it’s about the writer’s intention (in fact, you could argue that the writer’s intention doesn’t actually matter in most contexts, but the listener’s perception is always critical). Part of the reason ‘Dream Phone’ works so well as a twist on the familiar devices and motifs of dubstep and grime is that it doesn’t sound completely alien, despite its uncommon time signature. You can still follow the groove easily without worrying about counting beats or figuring out time signatures. The first time Keysound’s Dusk and Blackdown played it on Rinse FM, they didn’t realise it was in 3/4 until they had trouble mixing out of it.

Thirdly, as we discussed in our previous Passing Notes feature on polyrhythms, using multiple time signatures for different elements of a track can also work very effectively for creating unique grooves and rhythms. In the case of 3/4 and 6/8 it’s a very small difference, but it’s also possible to mix and match very different time signatures for more complex polyrhythms. (For a further example of a related idea, take a look at our recent Breakdown feature on Lukid’s ‘USSR’, in which the synth line implies 3/4 before resolving back into 4/4.)

We’ll come back to a second example of this kind of ambiguity later in an Actress track, but first let’s consider some more examples of non-4/4 time signatures.

Kenton Slash Demon’s ‘Ore’ – 6/8

As we noted earlier, 6/8 time is very closely related to 3/4 but with a slightly different feel. We can hear a great example of a 6/8 time signature in ‘Ore’ by Kenton Slash Demon.

The part starting at 0:21 is a perfect example of a 6/8 beat, with the bassline (in yellow in the piano roll below) landing on the quavers and the kick (red) and snare (blue) emphasising every first and fourth quaver:

Ore 6:8 Signature

Here’s a simplified version of that section:

The subsequent change to 4/4 timing at 1:10 also makes the impact of this section all the more powerful.

Author Oliver Curry
6th November, 2014

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Comments

  • nice read! I always loved how Daft Punk’s Revolution 909 switched from 2/4 and 4/4

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  • Adamski has been messing around with a lot of 3/4 lately with his neo-waltz concept https://soundcloud.com/officialadamski/neo-waltz-mixtape-2014

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  • Insanely informative and fun to read. Really great article.

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  • I really love the Bside of the first EQD single which switches between HP and LP filters every three beats on the synth but the main rhythm is a 4 to floor stomp, it’s a really cool effect.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsDoLrzj8BM

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  • Music theory is the business. Love it. Thank you!!

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  • While this is a good article with a completely valid purpose, here’s a little known fact: 3/4 is still common to dance music if the waltz is your dance.

    Just adding a little perspective to how we use words like ‘dance music’.

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  • I find it easier to think about odd meters as being just groups of 2s and 3s. “Take Five” can be counted as 3+2 in each measure – i.e. 2 beats of irregular length. Meters of 7 can be counted as 2+2+3 or 2+3+2 or 3+2+2.

    In music theory terms, this is called “complex” meter, because the beats are not all the same duration. 4/4 and 3/4 are known as simple meter (the beats are divided in 2s) and 6/8 is compound (the beat is divided in threes).

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  • 5/4, 7/8 ecc are “mixed meter” (don’t know if the term is right in english) .

    Anyway it’s like what Olympia wrote, mixed (if we take in consideration 5/4) means 3/4 + 2/4 or 2/4 + 3/4.

    While simple and complex meters can be divided by 2 or 3 (imperfect/perfect times as history teaches us) mixed meters are “simply” a sum of simple and complex meters.

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  • hi folks,

    everyone interested in that topic should have a listen to burnt friedman, especially his ‘secret rhythms’ series which he did with can-drummer jaki liebezeit:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57nCAOaCRto

    a more popular example may be eskmos ‘gold and stone’ in 7/4
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6iYQr5owmiY

    for inspiration on odd meters, listen to bulgarian, turkish, greek, indian or yemenite folk music 🙂

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  • I would say the idea that 4/4 is the only ‘dance’ music is a very ‘sheltered Western DJ’ idea. Some interesting examples in this article, but from a very limited perspective- sure, if all you ever listen to is house music and its electronic derivatives, then 3/4, 6/8, 7/8 etc may come as revelations to you.

    But open your eyes and ears and you’ll find that dance music comes in all forms and colors- all over West Africa, for example, people dance to 12/8 and 6/8 much more than 4/4. As Cito said above, in Bulgaria, Turkey, and Greece people dance to 7/8 more than 4/4. In India they may dance to 21/8. Don’t make the mistake of thinking of all these different musics as “world music”- they are “dance music” for people in cultures who get incredibly bored and don’t dance- trust me, I’ve seen it- if you put on the simple 4-on-the-floor 4/4 electronic music that we think of as dance music.
    It would be much more interesting to create music inspired by these other kinds of dance music than to pick from the handful of non-4/4 examples in a very narrow EDM landscape.

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  • But where are the 2/4 time in dance? Hardstyle is really fast but because of the emphasis on a 2/4 lick instead of 4 on the floor I imagine it is easy to crossover, like this:
    https://soundcloud.com/deadenz/save-the-day

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  • an old but classic tune from crystal distortion with different rythm structure here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbtlMOfviEc

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  • Finally a decent article on this. I’ve been searching for a week now and this is the best one thanks!

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  • A tubedrop to end this topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28lUsDquJ70

    Rigorously 11/16.

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  • Hi, Particularly Ezra
    I’m trying to broaden my musical horizons into EDM and I should challenge you about how far you have to go to find non 4/4 dances – English folk dance music includes lots of 6/8 and 9/8 music – I do both social and sword dance (Northern England does sword dancing instead of Morris).

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