In my post, Minor keys dominate global top 20, I analysed the top 20 tracks in the Apple Music Global Top 100 as of February 25, 2021. Surprise, surprise, all 20 tracks were in 4/4 time (four beats in the bar). I would hazard a bet that if I’d analysed the top 100 I would have got the same result.
Of course, that wasn’t always the case. While 4/4 has always dominated in every genre (so much it’s also called Common Time), you would have seen a sprinkling of tracks in 3/4 and, particularly in jazz and rock, the occasional more exotic time signature.
Why is 4/4 now so ubiquitous? Well, a lot of that has to do with how music is produced, with so much of it being assembled in Digital Audio Workstations using virtual instruments and libraries of pre-recorded samples, including fully formed rhythmic grooves. It takes a bit of bravery to take a step back from this and work in another time signature although, from my experience, not as big a deal as you might think.
Why would you want to try another time signature? Well, because a different time signature sets your track apart, providing you with all the scope you could need to be innovative.
I have a number of examples of tracks I have worked on which were defined by their time signatures. The first is more of a sketch than a fully-formed composition, but it gives an idea. It’s called Five More and that tells you all you need to know about its beat:
Incidentally, Five More also provides a great example of the way in which a riff, in this case on bass, can drive a track (see Sometimes a riff is all you need).
The next example is called Seven Hills (again the time signature is in the name). In this case, the piece was constructed from a piano motif that just happened to be in 7/4 time:
Seven Hills is on the Quelque Chose album The Blue.
My third example is called The Fumble, again from the album The Blue. We came up with the acoustic guitar riff then had all sorts of trouble trying to work out what the time signature was. You might regard this as purely of academic interest but it was actually essential if we were going to assemble the track in Cubase. We settled on alternate bars of 6/4 and 3/8.
OK, so these tracks are a little unusual but they came about only by experimenting with different time signatures. You might want to give it a go.