Theory of the Week – Partial Time Signatures and X/16 time

Today I’ll be discussing a bit of an advanced topic so if you’re a beginner, this may be a hard to understand. Let’s talk about partial meters or partial time sigs. What’s a partial time signature? Well I’ll explain, but in order to get it, I’ll need to first talk about how basic time sigs work a bit.

The ever used 4/4 time signature has two parts right? A upper number indicating how many of the bottom number there are in a given measure, and the bottom number indicating which note gets counted as a beat. You should already know how this works to some extent. So, that means that 4/4 is four quarter note beats per measure. This can be called a complete bar, or complete meter. However, it is also possible to have partial bars and partial meters. This happens when a time signature is cut short in the middle of a beat producing an off time sound that can be quite effective when used creatively in music. There are two ways of writing a partial time signature, one is a fraction bar over a number such as: 3¾/4 (Four Three and three fourths quarter note beats per measure) the other is to subdivide every note in the measure into the largest fractional beats. Let me break this down a bit.

Back to our 4/4 time signature, we have a four quarter note beats per measure right? If we want to have a partial meter of 3¾/4 without fractions, then we need to do a bit of basic math. To convert a fractional time sig to a normal meter, multiply the bottom number in the fractional beat times the upper whole number and add the top number of the fractional beat. This would make: (3 x 4 + 3 = 15) The last thing to do is make the bottom number a fourth of what ever the bottom number was originally in the fractional time sig. (4 ÷ 4 = 16) which gives us 15/16 time. However, even though the bottom is now 16, we’re still thinking in terms of four so we count it as.

ONE e and a, TWO e and a, THREE e and a, FOUR e and| ONE e and a, TWO e and a, THREE e and a, FOUR e and|


11/8 as 2¾/2      3 half notes and one partial half note (1 – 2 – 3 – 4| 1 – 2 – 3 – 4)

19/16 as 4¾/4     4 quarter notes and one partial quarter note

9/8 as 3½/2       Three half notes and one partial half note

11/16 as 2¾/4     Two Quarter notes and one partial quarter note


We can do it in reverse by dividing the number of beats into groups of four and what ever is left over becomes the fractional part. So if we something crazy like 17/8 then we divide 17 by 4 which is:

(17 ÷ 4 = 4.25)  the .25 is equal to ¼. If it was .75 then it would be ¾. If it’s .50 than it’s ½. Finally just divide the denominator by four as well which gives us 2. Let’s do one more. 21/16

(21 ÷ 4 = 5.25) which gives us 5¼ and divide the bottom number by four and we get 4. Together gives us 5¼/4 time.


19/16 is the same thing as (4.75/4) = 4¾/4  and (4 x 4 + 3)/4÷4 is 19/16 time.


Don’t count 1 2 3 4 5 6… count 1 e and a 2 e and e

1 e and e is the pattern for counting sixteenth notes, if 8 is our bottom value then count 1 and 2 and…



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