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“Mixed Meter” is a term for compositions that use multiple time signatures (check out our five-part deep-dive into the world of time signatures here). Mixed meter compositions date back as far as the 14th century, although their usage off paper is much older. When we think of modern mixed meter music in western culture, genres typically known for using multiple time signatures in one song—like progressive or psychedelic music—come to mind.
Recording mixed meter songs can be a tricky process because of their inherent irregular rhythm change. Their different tempos require multiple metronome settings for tracking, a hurdle for producers and engineers when programming metronome automation. In certain DAWs, automating metronomes can get very messy and confusing.
The Spire Studio metronome makes tracking multiple time signatures in one project simple. With Spire’s metronome, you have four options for time signatures: 3/4, 4/4, 6/8, and 1/4 (this option is multifaceted, it can be used with any time signature that uses four on the bottom). After recording a passage using one of these time signatures, you can pick up where you left off with a completely different time signature and tempo.
Pro Tip: Before you begin tracking your composition, you should have your foundation set in stone. To make this process go smoothly, be sure to record all of your mixed meter rhythms first before tracking the rest of the instruments. Doing so will minimize the amount of work overall.
Let’s analyze a mixed meter composition that uses all four of the metronome options. In each example, we’ll go over how to change the course of your song using the metronome. After this, you’ll be composing challenging pieces in no time.
Take a listen to this mixed meter composition recorded in Spire Studio.
Composing in 3/4 time
A 3/4 time signature has three beats per measure, and each quarter note receives one beat. Our above example begins in a 3/4 time signature, which ends after 12 bars.
When you track the first time signature of your piece, you’ll need to stop recording after the section is over. Then, drag the playhead in the Spire app to the end of your section (try to match the playhead to where beat one of the next section will be). You’ll want to select the first track again to continue recording on the same track. Once the playhead is set, go to the Tempo tab, select a new time signature, and set your new tempo. When you press record, you’ll be able to record your new idea on the same track where the playhead is set.
Here is the 3/4 drum track isolated:
Composing in 4/4 Time
After you record your second section, you have technically completed the requirements of a mixed meter composition. Be sure to double-check that the correct track you want to record on is selected. But why stop at only two time signatures?
In the original mixed meter reference, the second section of the song switches over to a 4/4 time signature. A 4/4 time signature means that there are four beats per measure, and each quarter notes receives one beat. Here’s the 4/4 section isolated:
Composing in 1/4 Time
Our master track transitions to a time signature of 7/4 in its third section. Therein lies the secret of the 1/4 time signature. Because the 1/4 metronome places emphasis on every beat, this metronome setting works as a blank click track, meaning that you can use it for any sized measure that uses a quarter note to emphasize one beat.
In this case, our example uses seven beats per measure. Here it is isolated:
Composing a mixed meter song can be challenging and require a lot of work, but recording one in Spire Studio is simple. By mapping out your composition, recording each time signature in a chunk, positioning the playhead after each section, and adjusting the time signature and tempo, you can record your composition in only a few easy steps. Once your structure is set, record all of your other instruments on top, and there you have it. Happy writing!