Exploring 7/8

This piece is not meant to be a theory lesson in meter and time signatures. Rather, it is meant to help you open up some new doors and hopefully get your creative juices flowing!

Most of us have grown up listening to music characterized by the familiar time signatures of 4/4 or 3/4. 4/4 is the most common time signature in rock, blues, country, funk, and pop while 3/4 is often used for country & western ballads, not to mention waltzes, minuets & scherzi!

Both of these time signatures are considered ‘simple time signatures’. But what about ‘complex time signatures’?

When I was very young, I listened to a lot of pop, rock and folk. Almost all of it was written in 4/4 time. When I turned 14, I was introduced to the progressive rock bands King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and Gentle Giant. One of the first things I noticed was that I could not easily tap my foot to some of the tunes. When I tried to count them out, I realized that many of these songs were written in complex time signatures and some even used mixed meters, moving from 9/8 to 4/4 to 13/8 etc.

As my internal clock became familiarized with these new meters, I eventually became very comfortable with them and as I began to write songs, I found that I often gravitated towards 7/8.

To me, 7/8 is a wonderful time signature in that it is not necessarily locked to a solid down beat. As I tend to focus more on melodic phrasing than meter, I found that 7/8 was a wonderful pallet on which to compose and improvise because it allows me to play extend melodic phrases.

The following piece called Cogitation is a raw sketch for a song I have yet to finish. I hope you will enjoy it. I offer it as an example of the musical possibilities offered by 7/8 (Don’t mind the cheesy drums and very average mix..remember it’s a raw sketch!)

Cogitation (click to play)

One other thing I will mention about 7/8 is that its possibilities are greatly expanded by where you place the accents. Cogitation is counted with the accents emphasized as follows:

1  2  3  4  5  6 7

However, I also have written pieces with the following accents. (Try taping them out emphasizing the bolded number)

1  2  3  4 5  6  7


1  2  3 4  5  6 7

If you want a wonderful example of 7/8, have a listen to the long synth solo in the song The Cinema Show by Genesis from the album Selling England By The Pound. Here is a live version of that solo from YouTube though personally, I prefer the studio version.

Have fun with 7/8!!


Here is a good article from Wikipedia on Time Signatures ..

© Gil Namur, 2009


  1. Last ex sounds more like Suppers Ready. But could be wrong. More familiar with Foxtrot

  2. Hey Joe,

    Foxtrot is a great album and Suppers Ready is superb! Be sure to check out Selling England By The Pound 🙂

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