Music education always & always looking forward.

A Prime Example of an “Odd” Meter: Asymmetrical Compound Meter in Primus's "Eleven"

A proggy meter in a funky song by an alternative band.


I am a lot of things as a music fan, but I am not a heavy metal fan. It’s just a blind spot of mine. Sorry.

What does that have to do with Primus? Not much, I suppose, but for whatever reason, I associate them with heavy metal fans. Possibly because of songs like this, with bonkers time signatures, which are often found in heavy metal music (the darker & the more Scandinavian, the better, I guess?) makes for lots of heavy metal fans who love Primus. There are a lot of heavy metal bands who make use of lots of asymmetrical time signatures in their songs, and I just don’t know about them. If you know, and you’d like me to write about them on the blog, please contact me.

And maybe because my brother-in-law, who is a huge heavy metal fan, decided one day to ruin my life & send me a Primus video where they make excessive use of my least favorite word.

Either way. Moving on.

Link to the video recording of “Eleven”.

Introduction: Primus has been an active cult favorite band for 30 years. Their debut album, released in 1990 on indie label Caroline Records, started a series of albums and singles that were well-received on alternative rock radio throughout the decade. Primus’s sound is notable, as their songs are almost all totally bass-driven, propelled by the band’s frontman and bassist Les Claypool. “Eleven” appears on the band’s sophomore album, Sailing the Seas of Cheese.

Analysis: The entire song is written and performed in 11/8 time, with note groupings of 1-2-3 / 4-5-6 / 7-8-9 / 10-11. This pattern stays in place until a single measure of 12/8, heard at 2:00 in the linked video recording. The pattern is outlined most clearly in the bass guitar.

Considerations for Teaching: This is really a great song to play to stretch students’ capacity to count in compound meter, and better yet, the lyrics of the song (although in Claypool’s typical unintelligible delivery) are not at all profane or contain anything intentionally offensive. While many Primus lyrics are completely unsuitable for classroom listening, this song questions the nature of reality in a sort of Bandersnatch manner, but without any reference to violence or drugs.

Changing Meter in Nine Inch Nails's "Just Like You Imagined"

That Leading Tone, Though: Ascending Minor Second in Young the Giant's "Simplify"