I think this is one of the things that just continually improves as long as you keep playing (well, granted that you don't restrict yourself just to the signatures you're already familiar with). I remember I struggled a lot with time signatures other than 4/4 when I had played the guitar for, well, a lot less than I have played now.
Are you playing with a track or metronome or just by yourself? I find it's easier to get the time in my head if I listen to the song played by a band with a drummer. The drums really help me with getting the beat right. If I just have a score (or tablature), I try to "hear" how the drums or a rhythmic bass line or piano accompaniment (depending what's appropriate within the context) would sound, then just play along. I never liked tapping my foot, I found it much easier just to slightly nod on the emphasis. (I suppose this is "dancing inside".)
I remember I used this with the guitar for learning how to improvise in odd time signatures: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Z9IQnDRYIYU#t=547s (the end section of Starless by King Crimson). I've recently jammed along the same track with my tenor, although the original wind instruments on the track (IIRC) were alto sax and cornet. The time is 13/8, 4 bars in Cm (concert pitch), 2 in Fm, then 2 more in Cm. Then it shifts to 4/4 Gm for 4 bars, then goes back to the 13/8 thing before going back to the song's main theme. It's very easy to play along with the sax as it's mostly in C minor. I actually count the time as 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-1-2-1-2-3, because that's how the drums and bass sound like to me.
Anyway, have faith, as I think this is something that will just come along, but is difficult to rush.
The system of counting that I was taught for compound meters sounds a bit silly, but it is very useful because all of the note values "line up" very nicely so you can see the interrelationships of the rhythms. A copy of the system is in the attached pdf file.
jtbsax I will study it up later, that looks like it will be helpfull. I am trying to nail down my sight reading and so am deliberately not using the backing track or a metronome. I feel I am getting to grips with it well and when I do use a backing track its quite easy and the timing is pretty well suggested by the track. Though, its a bit deceiving cos with a backing track you hardly notice and it doesnt seem to matter if you hold that note a bit too long so long as you come in right with the next one. With 12/8 I believe I am just losing track of whats happening in the bar. Seems to go on forever and I do have a problem with it as 1234. No prob when not playing, but then that's not really sax as we, or anyone else, knows it. I will read all again and get at it again after work.
Happy Monday all.
When I started learning to read music in ye olde times, music carved into stone, my music teacher got us to play groups of 3 notes, by playing notes in time with saying "black-ber-ry". In more recent times, another person suggested non-words, ta-ki-ta.
For groups of 4 - ta-ka-di-mi
With 12/8, this is (mostly) 4 groups of 3 so count in four, not 12 and think "ta-ki-ta" for each beat.
I have played some music where other x/8 can be split into unequal length beats e.g 7/8 = 3+2+2 or 2+2+3 but that's not really much more difficult that counting 1, 2, 3 each bar, providing you have got the length of 1/8 note in your head.
I spent all of Saturday humming the Bari part to "Build me up Buttercup" as we'd played it as our quartet rehearsal on Friday. (dum da dum dum dum da dum, dum da dum dum dum da dum)
Today I am singing a piece written by one of our band conductors called "all at Sixes ansd Sevens" where the time signature changes from 7/8, 5/8, 2/4 and 4/4. sometimes in consecutive bars. I count them all in 8s (doubling the count for the /4 bars)
At the moment it's going dah dah da da da, dah dah da da da, DAH da da DAH da da, round and round in my head :-/
As noted earlier, with compound time signatures it does depend on the tempo. Usually, they're too quick to count other than in 2 (6/8), 3 (9/8), or 4 (12/8). If it is slow enough, then go for the 123 223 etc approach (you can do that with sensible performances of the second movement of Beethoven's Pastoral).
Same applies to other compound time signatures 6/2, 6/4, 9/4, 12/16 etc