Do bar lengths really need to be a power of 2?

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« on: July 26, 2018, 04:33:49 PM »
Hi All,
  I am a retired computer person who has taken up music as a hobby. I have recently been experimenting with song structures by analysing existing songs. Whilst most songs accord with having 1, 2, 4 and 8 bars etc, this suited my computer experience admirably. However, my bubble burst as I have just come across songs which are mainly  a power of 2 but with the occasional part being 15 bars. It seems to me that there is no real reason to expect this 1,2,4 ... bars. Am I correct in saying that as long as it fits the song then it does not matter?



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« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2018, 04:40:30 PM »
I remember learning something about that when I was a music major in college, but whoever is writing the song makes the rules for that song. If 15 bars works, then make it 15 bars. In fact, I'm guessing, if you're going to get deep about prosody, an odd number of bars would be a good way to support an unstable theme. And it seems to me most songs have unstable themes, to some extent.

I will really go out on a limb here and say...no matter what any of the rules are, if breaking any of them works for your song, then break it/them. I personally find it helpful to know the rules, so I know what I'm doing (and maybe even why) when I break them.

So, go for it.


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« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2018, 05:26:15 PM »
Thank you. I feel that way myself. I remember some tome ago when I was reading a reading a Rick Rooksby book on songwriting that he had mentioned this 'tyranny of four' and that seemed to imply that the power of 2 was a habit rater than a rule.
But maybe I have a touch of OCD because I discovered this anomaly on this particular song - Act Naturally - by the Beatles and I had to go over this several times to confirm it.


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« Reply #3 on: July 27, 2018, 03:15:00 PM »
Once again, I learn something new here. I never realized there was a power of two rule, or is that a mathematical concept applied to the patterns of music that create a balanced sound? I'm not sure it's as much a mathematical rule as an auditory and sensory pattern that pleases our ears and holds our attention. Or is it a pleasing and predictable rhythm that holds our attention? I've tended to notice that some writers can get more conversational language in those eight beats than others, for example, Samantha Fish tends to get some very long phrases in her writing:

I tend to write shorter phrases, so her writing inspired me to try longer phrases. I've never seen it done quite like this before and she did a great job with it.

It sure does make music easier to learn when it has repetitive patterns. I ran across one recently that doesn't, and even John Mayer had a difficult time learning it as a result.

American Pie


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« Reply #4 on: August 27, 2018, 12:47:49 PM »
I sometimes print off commercial sheet music....
What I notice is Intro - 4 Bars
Verse 8 or 16 bars
Chorus 8 or 16 bars...

That's really it...maybe a surprise bar from last bridge goin to chorus....

I think when it fits this structure....you can be guaranteed your chorus to comes between 30 secs and One minute...


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« Reply #5 on: August 27, 2018, 05:03:16 PM »
Do bar lengths really need to be a power of 2?
So long as you can fit your drinks on them, I wouldn't give it any further thought ;)
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« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2018, 01:06:10 PM »
I agree with Vicki - if it works for the song then ignore anything anyone else has ever done.



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« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2018, 07:05:20 AM »
There is a school of thought (which I subscribe to) that EVERYTHING within the song should be there purely to support the emotional message of the song and be designed for maximum listener engagement

Even number of bars (4, 8, 16) for sections is very common and is what a listener would expect to hear - so sticking to this format is the fastest route to listener engagement (as is sticking to an established structure - e.g.: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, chorus

However, great songs also have an element of "tension & release" - so if it supports the emotion of your song to do something that makes the listener feel "uncomfortable" (e.g. The lyrics might be describing tension, awkwardness etc.) then an odd number of bars could work really well, or even a single bar of a different time signature, to create this tension before releasing it with a standard length section

If you are writing "for yourself" or "for the art" then you can obviously do what you like and change things up however you want

If you are writing with a commercial slant, or even writing for maximum engagement from listeners, then it is a good idea to follow these kind of "songcraft rules" - and with any rules my advice is to fully embrace and understand them BEFORE you start breaking them, which will maximise your chances of success (IMHO)
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