15/8 Time Signature: What It Is and How to Play in It (2023 Guide)

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If you’re curious about the 15/8 time signature, you’ve come to the right post!

I’m not a music expert, but I have played the guitar since 2003 and know a thing or two about music.

And although time signatures are something I focused on more as a violin player before I shifted my focus to guitar, they can still be useful to know about as a guitarist.

Let’s get to it.

Odd Time Signatures

If you play guitar, you’re most likely used to even time signatures. Most of the music today is in 4/4. 12/8 or 6/8 aren’t that uncommon either.

In some cases, you may stumble upon ¾. But even then, music has the feel of even time signatures. In fact, it’s often performed as 6/4.

But then we get to odd time signatures or odd meters. Essentially, these are time signatures with the odd number of beats per measure. In short, the upper number is an odd one. It could be 3, 5, 7, 9, and so on.

Now, here’s where things get a bit tricky. We, humans, are used to even beats. One beat is followed by another to complement it. With odd meters, nothing is symmetrical.

For three beats, you get another four. After the first two beats, you get three sets of three beats. I could go on with these combinations. But the point still stands.

So you perform them a completely different way. The simplest odd meter is probably ¾, but that one is easy to figure out. We all can count to 3 without getting too muddled.

But you count all of the other odd meters in a different way. You see, it’s all about the accents of the specific piece that you’re playing. These accents divide the meter into different shorter parts.

For instance, 7/8 time signature is usually divided into three parts. For instance, you have 3, 2, and 2 beats one after another. Or, it can also go 2+2+3. The same goes for other examples. 9/8 usually goes 2+2+2+3.

The same principle applies to all other examples. It’s always groups of 3 and 2 beats in different combinations. It takes some time to figure out, but it’s not that hard.

Which Genres Feature Odd Time Signatures?

If you’re into progressive rock or progressive metal, then you probably already know of odd time signatures. Plenty of Dream Theater or King Crimson songs feature odd meters.

But prog rock and prog metal musicians aren’t the ones who came up with them. In fact, there are some popular songs with odd time signatures. There’s Money by Pink Floyd or the Mission: Impossible main theme. Some jazz pieces also feature them. Blue Rondo à la Turk, for instance, is in 9/8.

However, the origin of odd time signatures goes further back. In fact, they’re only unusual in traditional Western music.

But then we have traditional music from the Balkans or Eastern Europe. Odd meters are pretty common there. Western musicians typically aren’t used to them.

15/8 Time Signature: What’s So Special About It?

But what if we go higher? What if we get to a number like, let’s say, 15? Is 15/8 time signature even a thing? Yes, it absolutely is a thing. In fact, there are way more complex odd meters. Even stuff like 25/8 or even so-called fractional and irrational meters. But let’s not get too geeky.

On the other hand, it’s a pretty rare odd time signature. 7/8 and 9/8, and even 11/8, are present even in some modern prog stuff. But 15/8 gets a bit tricky.

Now, it’s not just 3 measures of 5/8. You won’t often find 3+2 or 2+3 repeated 3 times. The 15/8 measure has a different structure. And no, it’s not five measures of three beats.

It’s more complex and could fit the definition of so-called additive meters. In simpler terms, it’s just a different combination of 2 and 3 beats forming one coherent musical sentence.

How to Play in 15/8 Time Signature?

So how do you go by performing in 15/8 time signature? Well, there are several different ways. It depends on how you split up the meter. As I mentioned above, you’ll have to think in groups of 2 and 3 beats.

If you’re writing in 15/8, figure out what you’re aiming for. If you’re trying to learn a song that’s in 15/8, look for the groups of 2 and 3 beats. Take a closer to listen and find accentuated beats.

The secret (well, it’s not much of a secret) is in counting. Here are some examples of how a 15/8 time signature can go:

  • 2+2+3+2+3+3
  • 3+2+2+3+2+3
  • 2+3+2+3+3+2
  • 3+3+3+2+3
  • 3+3+2+3+2+2

You could also do five times 3 beats, but that one would be a bit simpler. Anyhow, these examples might seem a bit challenging. But, as I mentioned, the secret is in counting.

These are all arranged in groups of 2 or 3 beats. So let’s take the first example. You’ll count it like this, where the first beat is always accentuated.

  • ONE-two, ONE-two, ONE-two-three, ONE-two, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three

Start with a relatively slow tempo and build up from it. Remember that these are the 8th notes. So set your metronome to about 180 and go from there.

In case you have a hard time wrapping your mind around it, here’s a visual representation of this beat:

The red lines present the first accentuated beat in a group. Blue lines are quiet beats. The horizontal black lines show us the equal time of each beat. Now, take your metronome and look at the picture. Try to practice it this way.

You can do the same with any combination of 2 and 3 beats. Apply this method to any odd time signature.

Additional Exercises for Odd Time Signatures

If you’re still having a hard time working in odd time signatures, don’t worry. First, most who are used to Western music have difficulties with them. Secondly, there’s a method to get over it.

Try and use an even meter to practice this. For instance, 3+3+2 beats of 8th notes are technically in 4/4. But it’s an asymmetrical meter. It can prepare you for odd meters.

I also suggest that you first start practicing with 7/8. It’s simple enough for a beginner, yet challenging enough to have a combination of 2 and 3 beats. It’s just the good old One-two-three, one-two, one-two.  


I hope this article has clarified this time signature a bit!

And if you want to read more of my music theory related articles, check out:

Lastly, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related subject!

2 Responses

    1. Hi David,

      Thanks for pointing that out! That is a cool example.

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