Mixed Meter

Much of the music written before 1900 is in fixed meter, that is one meter (or time signature) per piece.  When the meter changes, frequently or infrequently, from one time signature to another within the same piece, it is called mixed meter.  

At first glance, a mixed meter piece can seem challenging, but with pre-reading and understanding, is simply a matter of recognizing a new kind of rhythmic pattern.  Learning how to securely read in mixed meter, will ultimately develop greater rhythmic command and flexibility.

Danza—Mixed Meter Study

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Why Mixed meter?

The following excerpt from Danza can be metrically notated in a number of different ways—all sounding exactly the same.   Still, the choice for mixed meter best communicates musical intent and facilitates interpretation. 


Fixed Meter

In fixed 3/4, the piece begins in E minor and at m. 2, on the 3rd beat, changes to C major. Thus, the harmonic rhythm (the rate of change in the harmony) is out of sync with the barline and accent pattern is hard to see.

Mixed Meter

In mixed meter the harmonic rhythm is seen in two clear phrases— E minor for the first two measures , and C major for the next.  In addition, the organization of the accent pattern is easier to read and understand.

“Danza” Preparation

First clarify rhythm, working in measure segments, or short phrases.  For example:

For measures 1-4, count aloud and clap until secure with the rhythmic pattern:

Next realize the music as R.H. alone, playing the rhythm on open strings.  If possible, continue counting aloud.

Apply this same two-step process in other areas, such as the 5/8 passage at m. 36, counted as 1-&-a, 2-&.  For more information on counting  5/8, see Irregular Meter

Next clarify pitch, working with the same measure segments, or phrases.  For example:

Visualize left-hand fingers, blocking out finger (chordal) patterns for the 5/8 phrase at m. 36:

Finally, clarify any new technical coordination, isloating and practicing the challenge.    For instance:

The  down-up combination slur.  See also

Golpe–p tap on soundboard

palm mute (pizz) strum

For more on Mixed Meter, see pp. 140-43 and elsewhere in The Shearer Method Classical Guitar Developments, Book II


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