The Beatles Mastery of Using Time Signature Shifts

Rick Margin
5 min readFeb 6, 2024

Author’s Note: This subject was requested by a reader. Please let me know if you have any article ideas.

As I’ve written previously, The Beatles were arguably the most impactful musicians of all time. Their short 8-year career produced more historic achievement records than any other musicians. That even includes current megastar Taylor Swift. The Beatles massively impacted the music business and pop culture while also releasing 4 movies, 1 documentary and roughly 190 original songs. They reached No1 20 times and landed 71 entries in the Top 100, both records for any artist. This article will address their use of time signatures. You should think of this subject as one of their numerous secret sauces.

First, let’s define time signature. It indicates the meter of the song and structurally how many notes are found in each bar. The most used signatures are 4/4, 2/4 and 3/4.

Songwriters and music producers tend to remain in the same signature throughout their work, because that’s their training. In the early 1960s pop music was still following Tin Pan Alley and Broadway songwriting rules which were created in the 1920s. Changing signatures inside a song can risk disrupting the vibe of the song resulting in a turned off listener. It was a definite rule breaker when producing a record.

Conversely, seamlessly weaving time signatures shifts into many of the Beatle’s songs had the benefit of distinguishing their unique sound. It’s a crucial production technique that the Beatles pioneered and employed exceptionally well. It became a fundamental reason to why their material was often referred to as Beatles music as if they were their own musical genre.

Reviewing a few examples will help you to recognize its use.

“All My Loving”

Recorded in 1963, this song is one of their earliest use of shifting time signatures. The song’s 4/4 high energy begins with John and Paul’s double time playing on their guitars in the verse (“Close your eyes…) at pace of 156 beats per minute (BPM). They shift gears to 2/4 and 78 BPMs in the chorus (“All my lovin’, I will give to you…) with John adding syncopated guitar stabs. They remain in 2/4 through the instrumental section and return to the frantic 4/4 pace through the 3rd verse and shift back to 2/4 to end the song.

“I Call Your Name”

This 1964 song remains in 4/4 throughout, but during the bridge (“Well don’t you know I can’t take it…”) George and Paul shift to a double time riff in 8/4. In the instrumental solo section, the backbeat is modified to create a ska rhythm. This Jamaican genre was a precursor to reggae. This is first time we’ve seen this trick. When they move to the verse they shift back to the original 4/4 beat.

“We Can Work It Out”

This No1 1965 hit song shifts between major chords in the verse and minor in the chorus accentuating Paul’s lyrical message. This isn’t unusual. But, when the song goes to the bridge (“Life is very short…”) it changes time signature from a smooth flowing 4/4 to very syncopated 4/4 and shifts to 3/4 for the last two bars (“for fussing and fighting my friend, ask you once again”). George Harrison suggested the waltz-time feel. The song then shifts from the minor 3/4 to the smooth flowing 4/4 time and shifts back to 3/4 in the outro.

“Happiness Is a Warm Gun”

This exceptional 1968 song is loaded with time signature shifts. It’s one of their most eccentric songs, featuring mood changes and musical styles that range from doo-wop to rock to pop. And it’s all stylistically crammed into only 2:43. Nailing the structural and meter changes took roughly 70 takes, an unusual number for a Lennon created song. According to Kenneth Womack, an American music historian and author, “the song consists of 5 sections beginning with 4/4 (“She’s not a girl who misses much”). It shifts from to 6/4 time in the “Dirty Old Man” section; 9/8 and 12/8 in “the Junkie”, although the drums play in 6/8 throughout; four-bar sequences of 6/8, 6/4, 6/8 and 7/4 over the “Mother Superior” portion; and 6/8 and 4/4 for “the Gunman” (even though the drums remain in 4/4).” Harrison helped with the time signatures changes given his background in Indian classical music. Note: The upcoming video slightly disagrees with Womack’s opinion.

“Here Comes The Sun”

This seemingly simple 1969 song with a radiant message is loaded with time signature shifts. According to All Those Songs “It’s in 4/4 for the majority, but the bridge (“Sun, sun, sun, here it comes”) breaks into a weird combo of 3/8, 2/8, 4/4 & 2/4 and again was influenced by Georges Indian music interest.

A Brief Video Tutorial

Music is all about listening, not necessarily reading about it. Here’s a very helpful 15 minute YouTube video which is narrated by a well-educated musician with almost 1 million followers. Using typical music charts, he provides simple explanations comparing the Beatles song version versus the way it would have sounded if they had used traditional time signatures. He covers only short sections of the following songs, and for that reason, I don’t think you’ll find this video too “deep in the weeds”.

“Across The Universe”

“Don’t Let Down”

“Strawberry Fields Forever”

“Martha My Dear”


“Two Of Us”

“Happiness Is A Warm Gun”

“Here Comes The Sun”

“Good Morning, Good Morning”

They used time signature shifts more in the 2nd half of their career as they evolved into a studio-only band. Finally, the role of their classically trained producer George Martin can’t go without mention. He was keenly aware of their interest in creative rule breaking and certainly coached them when needed on this subject.

At the top of this article I mentioned Taylor Swift. I recently published an article comparing the achievements of both the Beatles and Swift. Here’s the link.

Another Medium writer has recently published an excellent article which explores the same subject from a very compelling and different perspective. It’s a great read. Here’s the link.

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Rick Margin

A curious guy interested in both understanding & writing about meaningful issues. Email @ Join in at