An investigation into theories of odd meter and their application to jazz composition and improvisation

Author Identifier

Kristian Borring

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)

First Supervisor

Matthew Styles

Second Supervisor

Jonathan Paget

Third Supervisor

Daniel Susnjar


This research examines how perception and cognition theories regarding musical meter may assist in the process of developing ‘odd meter’ practice in jazz for ‘melodic’ instrumentalists. Introduced in jazz as early as the 1950s, the integration of irregular meters into jazz practice has occurred only incrementally, as has the knowledge towards their theoretical premises. With the author acting as the intertwined composer and improviser, this study aims to develop an approach towards proliferating a ‘fluent idiolect’ to aid in obtaining clarity surrounding odd-meter types and present rhythmic and melodic strategies based on the investigation of theoretical underpinnings of meter. The ‘fluent idiolect’ refers in this context to the creation of a more holistic understanding and ability to compose and improvise in odd meters within the context of contemporary jazz practice. Meter and rhythm are often unintentionally conflated, causing some confusion in identifying what meter is. This may be particularly true in relation to irregular meters where distinctions between disparate beats acting as rhythmic ‘guide patterns’ are easily obscured or—when navigating odd-meter cycles that have identical beats—a single surface rhythmic pattern acts with more saliency than metric levels themselves. The practice-led research methodology developed for this research engaged a dynamic, iterative creative cycle that led the research through multiple stages of compositional practice, reflexive instrumental practice and audio recording while allowing for ongoing reflective analysis. This created insights into using the process of developing and internalising rhythmic and melodic concepts to complement how to distinguish metric layers and how they may be perceived in odd meters for the benefit of practice. The research contributes towards identifying different odd-meter types and how the perception and cognition theories of meter may assist jazz and other music practitioners to improve their understanding of how to approach irregular meter in composition and improvisation, while also offering a novel approach to composition. As a result of the practice-led research methodology, further contribution is provided through creative artefacts: original compositions, etudes, arrangements and studio recordings



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