Unusual Meters

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On this page you can find a collection of dances to songs with unusual meter, phrasing, or musical construction.

For our purposes "usual" means measures of two, three, four, or six beats, grouped in phrases of two, four, six, or eight bars.

A further explanation can be found below the lists of dances.

Asymmetrical Meters

Please keep this table in order by meter, then alphabetically by name of dance.

Dance Name Main Meter(s) With a Few Measures In Notes on Meter and Phrasing
Eich Olam Mamshich 5/8 (3-2)
Machur Al Yevanit 5/8 (3-2) 2/4 In the first part, the last measure of each phrase in the first part is in 2/4.
Ahava Shelanu 7/8 (3-2-2)
Da'asa (Moshiko) 7/8 (3-2-2)
Da'asa (Yakovee) 7/8 (3-2-2)
Darbashiya 7/8 (3-2-2) 5/8 (3-2) The third measure of the third part is 5/8.
Halleluya (Bitton) 7/8 (3-2-2) 4/4 First and third sections in 7/8, middle section in 4/4.
Halleluya L'Gal 7/8 (3-2-2) The first and third part consist of phrases with five measures each.
Mecholot Damar 7/8 (3-2-2) 4/4 First section in 4/4, second and third sections in 7/8.
Reiach Tapuach Odem Shani 7/8 (3-2-2)
Laz 7/8 (2-2-3)
Isha Al HaChof 9/8 (3-2-2-2)
Sovev Gal Gal 12/8 (3-2-2-3-2) Could be counted as 6. Further discussion in Music vs Dance.

Unusual Songs: Unusual Phrasing, Extra Beats, Changes in Meter

Many dances have an unusual meter which isn't asymmetrical or additive, or have unusual phrasing, extra or missing beats, changes in meter, etc. Due to the number of dances which exhibit multiple traits on this list, please keep this table in alphabetical order, and explain the musicality in the appropriate fields.

Dance Name Main Meter(s) With a Few Measures In Notes on Meter and Phrasing
Anavai 2/4 3/4 The second part has a phrase of 8 followed by a phrase of 9, the last measure being 3/4 to give an extra beat.
BeLeilot HaKaitz HaChamim 2/4 First part counted 4-4 and repeated, second part is counted 4-2-4-4 and repeated.
Chamsa 4/4 The first section has (appropriately) five phrases of two measures each, and the last section is a phrase of nine measures.
Chof Shaket 3/4 The first section has two phrases of eight measures each, while the second section is a phrase of nine measures.
Derech Eretz HaShaked 2/3 & 2/4 First part has two phrases of 6-6-6-8, second part has phrases of 5-6-5-6 and then 6-6-6-8. The first group of 6-6-6 are made from 2/4 measures for a straight feel, the 6-6-6 in the second part is made from 3/4 measures for a waltz feel.
Dror Yikra 2/4 3/4 First part counts 6-8, second part counts 9-6-8. The third measure of the second part is 3/4 (7-8-9 of the phrase).
Eretz Israel Yafa 3/4 4/4 Mostly in 3/4 - last phrase of the chorus ends in a measure of 4/4, giving an extra beat.
Et HaGeshem 3/4 4/4 Mostly in 3/4 - last measure of the first phrase is 4/4, giving an extra beat.
Gozi Li 7/4 & 4/4 First part is in 7/4 (or one measure each of 4/4 and 3/4), second part is in 4/4.
HaChinanit 4/4 2/4 The second part has an extra measure of 2/4 at the end. However, the dance behaves differently, see Music vs Dance.
HaReshut 4/4 2/4 First three parts have 4 measures of 4 beats, last part has 10 measures of 2 beats.
Hashual 4/4 3/4 In the first section, three of the eight measures are in 3/4, feeling like a missing beat. (Perhaps better: The first section is four measures of 7/4, with an extra beat after the second measure.)
Hora Mamtera 3/2 (6/4) & 4/4 First part is in 6/4, the rest in 4/4. The sheet music is written in 3/2, which is equivelant to 6/4, and it could be expressed either way. For the sake of keeping the dancer's beat the same, it makes more sense to count it as 6.
K'Agadat Rivka 4/4 2/4 First part is 4 measures of 4/4. Second part counts 4-4-4-2-4-4, then 4-4-4-4-4, that is, there's a measure of 2/4 inserted into the first repeat of a five-measure phrase.
Mezare Israel 6/8, 2/4, 4/4, 3/4 First part counts 3-3-4, (one measure of 6/8, one of 2/4), and the second part counts 4-4-4-4-4-4-4-2 (three measures of 4/4, one of 3/4).
Mishal 6/4 & 4/4 First part counts 6-6-6-6-6, second part counts 8-8-8-8. Dance is different, see Music vs Dance.
Mor VeKinamon 2/4 & 3/4 First part counts 6-6-6-5, second part counts 8-7-8-8.
Nitzanim Niru Ba'Aretz 2/4 3/4 The last measure of the first section is in 3/4, giving an extra beat. The first section phrases as 6-7, the second section as 8-8.
Ozi V'Zimrat Yah (Uzi) 7/4 & 6/4 First part is in 7, second part is in 6. Further discussion at Music vs Dance.
Shibolei Paz 2/4, 3/4, 4/4 First part counts 4-4-4-2 and repeats, secound part counts 4-4-4-3-4-4-4-2
Shir HaHaflaga 2/4 & 3/4 Eight phrases, with counds 10-12-9-11-13-12-13-12. The Dance fits to this in a very complex way, see here.)
Shiru HaShir 4/4 3/4 The second measure of the first section is in 3/4, feeling like a missing beat.
Tikvateinu 4/4 The first part is a phrase of seven measures.
VaYeven Uziyahu 4/4 2/4 In the second part, there's an extra measure of 2/4. First part counts 8-8, second part counts 8-2-8
VaYnikehu 2/4 & 5/4 The first part counts 4-4-4-2, the second counts as 5-5-5-4
Ya Raya 2/4 Every phrase in the song consists of five measures, for a count of 10 beats per phrase.
Zemer Ikarim 5/4 Entirely in 5/4.

Introduction to Meter

When counting music, the small repeating cycle of the percussion, bass, and sometimes melody which tells us where to start over and count again from 1 is known as the measure. Measures can be of different sizes; for example, most measures consist of four counts, or beats, but a waltz song will have only three beats to each measure. These measures can be described in time signatures, a pair of numbers which explains how many notes are in each measure. The bottom number tells you what size notes you're using, and the top number tells you how many are in each measure. A time signature is not the same thing as a meter. For example, the time signature 9/8 could express two or more different types of meter. Rhythm and meter are also related, but distinct - for example, a 7/8 with a metric construction of 3-2-2 could be accented to produce several different traditional rhythms. Meter, then, can be thought of as being halfway between time signature and rhythm. There are three major groups of meters: simple, compound, and asymmetrical, all of which have made their way into the music of Israeli dance. Meter can also be grouped by number; for example, all meters divisible by two are said to be duple meters, and meters divisible by three are triple.

Simple Meters

Simple meters are composed of quarter notes (so the base number will always be 4), with the number of beats in each measure being the top number, and the number we count to. A beat composed of one quarter note is called a simple beat, hence the name of the meter. The three most common simple meters are 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4.

  • A simple 2/4 can be thought of as a "march," like Ahavat HaChayalim.
  • A simple 3/4 can be though of as a "waltz," like Yedid Nefesh.
  • A simple 4/4 is called common time, the most used meter both worldwide and in Israeli dance.
  • We can also have "simple" meters of different numbers, for example 5/4 (like Zemer Ikarim), 6/4 (like the beginning of Hora Mamtera), or even higher.

Compound Meters

Compound meters are composed of eighth notes (so the base number will always be 8), with the total number of eight notes in each measure being the top number. A compound beat is composed of three eighth notes (making it 1.5 times the length of a quarter note). Compound beats are so named because they give both a triplet feel (by counting all three eighth notes) or a straight feel (by counting each group of three as one beat). Compound meters include 6/8 (like a Viennese waltz), 9/8 (like an Irish slip jig), and 12/8 (like an American swing or jazz song).

  • Compound 6/8 can be counted as 123456123456 (like Ani Eshtagea), or as 1--2--1--2-- (like Yoreket Esh), with a swinging triplet feel.
  • Compound 9/8 can be thought of as a "double waltz" - you have three big beats per measure, and each of those divides into three smaller beats. It's usually counted as 1&a2&a3&a, but you could technically count eight notes for 123456789. It doesn't occur in any Israeli dances (that we're aware of), but is often found in the slip jig genre of Irish dance.
  • Compound 12/8 is almost always counted as 1&a2&a3&a4&a, and the main different between this meter and a plain 4/4 is that 12/8 has a swinging feel because each beat is a compound beat. Examples in Israeli dance include many swing style dances like Im Rak Tavoi BeChamesh, and arguably many Moroccan style songs like Malkat HaChatunot or Mabruk Aleikum.

Asymmetrical Meters

Asymmetrical or additive meters are composed of both simple beats (one quarter note, equal to two eighth notes) and compound beats (three eighth notes) within the same measure. This means that the beats of these meters are of unequal length, hence the name asymmetrical. Often, these meters are counted in groups of 2s for simple beats and 3s for compound beats, hence the alternative name additive. For example, one might count Isha Al HaChof as 3-2-2-2. Because the smallest unit used in these meters is always the eighth note, the base number is always eight. Usually, the top number is an odd number, such as 5/8, 7/8, or 9/8, but iterations of asymmetrical meters in 8/8, 10/8, and 12/8 also exist.

  • Asymmetrical 5/8 is the simplest of its family, and can only be expressed as 3-2 or 2-3. Machur Al Yevanit, the only 5/8 Israeli dance, uses a 3-2 construction.
  • Asymmetrical 7/8 is usually expressed as 3-2-2 or 2-2-3. Because of the Yemenite drum rhythm called da'asa, and because of the influence of Greek music (which often favors placing the compound beat at the beginning), most Israeli dances in 7/8 use a 3-2-2 construction, including Darbashiya, Da'asa (both Moshiko's and Yankalee's), Halleluya LeGal, and Reiach Tapuach Odem Shani. A notable exception is Moshiko's Laz, which takes it's music from the Laz region of northern Turkey and uses a 2-2-3 construction and a drum rhythm also called Laz.
  • Asymmetrical 8/8 is an asymmetrical meter that, by its nature, adds up to 4/4, and is often counted as such. There are two rhythms in middle eastern music which use this meter, known as wahda and bolero. Bolero is a fairly common rhythm in Israeli dance, showing up in such songs as Al Na Tishal, Tzel Etz Tamar, Pireus, and Ma SheBenainu. Again, it's perfectly logical to count these songs in 4, since the 8/8 rhythms simplify to that number.
  • Asymmetrical 9/8 is totally different to compound 9/8, and is usually constructed as 2-2-2-3 (especially in Turkish influenced music) or as 3-2-2-2 (more common in Greek tunes). The only Israeli dance to use an asymmetrical 9/8 is Isha Al HaChof, which, translated from a Greek song, uses the 3-2-2-2 construction of this meter.
  • Asymmetrical 12/8 is a very uncommon meter, but does exist in the dance Sovev Gal Gal, in a 3-2-2-3-2 construction (possibly a variation of the Arabic Iqa called Warashan).
  • There are many other rhythms and meters of the middle east which fall into this family, including the 10/8 rhythms of Arabia, Armenia, and Turkey (Samai al-Thaqil and Curcuna) and the Arabic iqaat and Turkish usuls. However, as yet, none seem to have been used for music extant in the Israeli dance tradition.

Changes in Meter

In addition to understanding all these meters, we have to take into account that some songs change meter, whether for major portions of the music or for a single measure. For example, Hora Mamtera begins in 6/4 (sometimes written as 3/2), but in the second part of the dance shifts into a more regular 4/4. Eretz Yisrael Yafa, on the other hand, has only one measure of 4/4 at the end of the chorus, producing an "extra beat." Dror Yikra has the same phenomenon, being a song in 2/4 with a single measure of 3/4 during the second part.

Changes in Phrasing

Finally, even if a song stays a consistent meter throughout, it might still throw dancers off their normal counts by having unusual phrasing. Most songs have phrases (combinations of measures) which are even, usually in groups of two or four. It's one of the reasons dancers often count to 8. However, particularly in middle eastern music, phrases are sometimes made of a strange number of measures. Halleluya LeGal, for example, is in 7/8 through the whole song, but has five measures in the first and third parts. Tikvateinu has seven measures of 4/4 in its verse, rather than a more typical 8 measures.

A Few Common Errors

A final consideration when dealing with unusual counts is that dancers sometimes ignore the actual meter and time signature, and count to four or eight. This can result in three phenomena in which dancers don't articulate the reality of the music very well.

  • "Extra Beats" vs. Extra Measure - In a 4/4 song, you might have perfectly even phrasing - four beats to a measure, four measures to a phrase - but very often there's an extra measure at the end of a phrase as a way to transition musically (for example, between the verse and chorus of Tagidi Lo, or at the end of part A in Bimkom Prida). Dancers often mistakenly call this "extra beats," when in reality it would be better to say "extra measure." Extra beats would technically mean you have a measure of a greater size, like in Eretz Yisrael Yafa or Dror Yikra.
  • "Missing Beats" - Missing beats can certainly exist, in the same way that extra beats can: for instance, if you had a song in 4/4 and you suddenly had a measure of 3/4, that could be thought of as a missing beat. However, often dancers refer to "missing beats" when there was no actual change in meter. For example, in a 2/4 song, dancers sometimes (read: almost always) count to either four or eight, and a phrase of three measures of 2/4 will feel like two measures of 4/4 with two beats suddenly missing.
  • "False Changes in Meter" - Similarly the the "missing beats" described above, if a song which is actually in 2/4 is being counted in fours, and there is an extra measure of 2/4, it will seem as if there was a change of meter when actually, none occurred. Usually, the meter of a piece can be ascertained by listening for the smallest repeating pattern in the percussion and/or bass line.