How Many 5/4 Measures are in Death Cab for Cutie’s The New Year?

Recently some of my students have been studying some Death Cab for Cutie tunes which is super exciting for me as they have so much to offer technically for any band member. Today I met with one of my drummers who has been working on the song “The New Year” from the Transatlanticism record. Our focus has been on counting in this song as there are innumerable time signature changes. It is imperative that a drummer be able to own his/her part and hold the band together through solid counting.

A quick arrangement overview gives us this layout:


Verse 1

Bridge (Instrumental)

Verse 2



Verse tag

The intro and verses contain alternating 3/4 and 5/4 bars which the casual listener might miss thinking that since there are 8 counts for each chord then the song is simply in 4/4 time with a strange beat pattern. As if this were not challenging enough to a young drummer, at the end of each verse the last bar is cut short by one beat leading us to the bridge in 4/4 time. After the first verse the bridge makes an instrumental appearance foreshadowing the longer version to come. The last measure of the bridge has an extra beat taking us back to the verse pattern of 3 and 5. When the bridge comes around “for real” after verse 2 it is after a 9-count pause. Still hanging on? The bridge ends with the same extra beat returning us once again to the 3 and 5 pattern. The ending is a nice rock-n-roll cliffhanger almost careening into another bridge with the timing but leaving us hanging on the V chord.

When starting a big project song such as this it is best for the young drummer to begin with the overview of arrangement and counting. This ensures that while executing the technical challenges he/she holds onto the primary purpose of a drummer: to hold the groove and time of the song together. I ask my students to do a number of exercises depending on their instrument, skill level, and experience. The first is counting out loud while listening to a recording of the song we are working on. Once we establish time signature we count, and count, and count some more. Some of my guitar and keyboard students create charts outlining chords and arrangements to help commit the song to memory.

My drummers learn to count not just time signatures but larger “passes” to establish fill patterns and sections. This might look something like this: verse groove for 4 bars, fill to next 4 bars, fill to chorus, chorus for 8 bars, fill to intro, etc. Learning that most popular songs are built in sections of 4 and 8 bars helps drummers recognize instinctively where their fills should land.

While this may go against the grain for some teachers, I am a firm believer in finding ways to make all aspects of music more accessible to my students. Sometimes it is easier to count eighth-note groups for syncopated passages. Sometimes it is easier to count the number of beats that a chord covers rather than the simple underlying time signature. However you find yourself counting, count evenly and steadily. Turn on the metronome. I can’t emphasize that enough–Metronome, metronome, metronome. Use it for practice, use it live in your headphones, just use it.

Whether you take on “The New Year” or another project, remember to count, own your parts, and take some risks. You might find yourself creating the next great groove.

One Response to “How Many 5/4 Measures are in Death Cab for Cutie’s The New Year?”
  1. Carlos Soler says:

    Thank you very much for your info on the song, really enlightning! I haver listened to it for years and never unsderstood the time signature of the verse.

    Now, after your post, the verse makes all sense. EXCEPT for one thing!!! You say the verse is 3/4+5/4… and I´m not sure about that. I feel that it is 2/4 + 6 /8. Please note, how the hihat on the main beat (6/8) starts after two times, not three. I think it is

    ONE TWO, one two three four five six ONE TWO, one two three four five six .

    Don´t you think??

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