Time Out is the title of a famous record* from 1959 by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. It took that name because three or four of the cuts** played with musical time. I’m using it as the title for this post because it’s about musical time, too.
The hit song on that album*** was Take Five, a piece by Paul Desmond, sax player in the Brubeck Quartet. In 1959 Take Five was the quintessence of cool to me (it still is, actually). The first twenty bars should give you an idea how cool it is. While you listen, see if you can tell how it got its name.
If you read my posts on the Beatles tunes You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away and Here Comes the Sun that may have clued you in to count beats. The beat pattern through this whole song is unusual. The time is five beats to the bar. Most pop music is in duple meter (2, 4, or 6 beats to the bar) or triple (3 beats to the bar). But Desmond and Brubeck make Take Five swing in spite of the odd meter. Listen to the clip again, if you like. (I’ll give you a link to the whole thing at the end of this post.)
There’s something about eccentric beat patterns like this that I find satisfying. When I hear them I’m pleased. Maybe I just feel smart to notice them, but I love counting five (or seven or even, sometimes, eleven).
Five beats is just as unusual in Western classical music as it is in pop. I only know one piece written in five (5/4 for you musicians). Listen:
That’s the second movement (Allegro con grazia) of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #6, the Pathetique. Fun, no? (I’ll link to a version of the whole movement at the end.)
That’s jazz and classical. As for folk music, eccentric beat patterns like that are rare in the folk music we hear in the US, most of which is based on music patterns of the British Isles. But start listening to stuff further afield and you’ll find other patterns.
There’s a popular Greek folk song called ΓΕΡΑΚΙΝΑ (Yerakina), for example. The clip below is a version by The Pennywhistlers. Can you count it?:
It’s not in five, it’s in seven. (I wasn’t trying to be tricky I couldn’t find a piece in five, though I’m sure there are tons.) Yerakina might actually be written in alternating bars of three and four (though it might have been ‘written’ long before it was written down). It’s fair to count seven but I find it easier to count three and then four. Go back and try it again (if you like). You can listen to a complete version below.
Here are the complete versions. First a link to Take Five on YouTube (it’s restricted and cannot be embedded)
Next an embedded version of the Tchaikovsky’s 6th, 2nd movement performed by The State Symphony Orchestra of Tatarstan conducted by Feodor Gluschenko:
And here are YouTube two versions of Yerakina. The first is an old and very traditional version:
The next is really fun. Greeks dance a dance called a syrton to Yerakina (I think). This version is a whimsical but affecting version of dancing to Yerakina. Watch the whole thing. It’ll make you smile. When you can see the dancers’ feet notice that they do three steps then four.
Can you say “Party” in Greek? Maybe they rehearsed on Retsina.
Hope you enjoyed that. The whole thing, not just the dance.
*record: black vinyl artifact with grooves carved into it that physically transfer vibrations to a “record player” which turns them into recognizable sound.
**cut: the collection of grooves used to produce one song.
***album: a record . . . oh, never mind.