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This is something I've struggled with for awhile now, and applies to both transcription and composition.

So, let's say we have a song at 160 BPM. The main subdivision is eighth notes, and the beat (quarter notes) is clearly emphasized by drums (so it's a fitting written tempo). However, for every chorus of this song, the pulse halves - although you could certainly still tap out the beat at the same speed, it "feels" like the song has slowed. Assuming the written tempo is still 160 BPM, the main subdivision is still eighth notes.

So my question is, should I change the written tempo to reflect the hypermeter? In this example, it would mean halving the tempo to 80 BPM, and the eighth note subdivisions would become sixteenth notes, even though they are technically identical in speed and duration. Would that make it more readable?

I should also mention that in this example after the chorus, the hypermeter speeds right back up, slows down again in the chorus, and stays slowed for the rest of the song.

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I’m not sure I understand. Does the pulsation halves for everyone (a theme comes back, but twice slower, e.g.) or does it remains the same with the rhythmic twice slower? –  Édouard Dec 13 '13 at 0:52
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If this is classical music you could just write a directive like "largo" above the start of the chorus and then "a tempo" when you get back to the verse. Then it's the conductor's problem ;-) –  dumbledad Dec 13 '13 at 11:29

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The general consensus is that the larger the note value, the easier it is to read at faster tempos. This is why many composers use cut-time (2/2) for quick tempos. The more beams / notes there are, the more people get freaked out.

If the piece feels like it is slowing by half, it is considered to be called "half-time" (used in jazz, much like "double-time".) In music, there are several ways to notate the same sound. Though it depends on the piece, it would generally be a good idea to leave the tempo the same and double the note durations; effectively creating half-time. This is easiest for readability as the least amount of notation is changing.

If you were to halve the tempo, you would also have to halve the note durations, and modulate metrically to a unit beat 1/2 the original unit beat, which would involve a new time signature. All of this information is a lot for a performer to take in simultaneously, and so therefore the composer would need to have a justifiable reason for doing it.

So my answer is, No - the hypermeter is already being emphasized by the ensemble. If you modulated metrically, it wouldn't be hypermeter anymore, it would just be meter.

Hope that helps.

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I personally would still use a text indicator that something has changed, however. Like maybe "With a Half-time feel." (The "feel" is important to prevent anyone from thinking they actually need to slow down the tempo. The "With a" just feels right to me.) –  trlkly Jul 10 at 17:58

The header asks change tempo AND note values. You only need change the note values.Anyone reading it will feel the tempo change through the note values.It's easier to write and easier to read. The pulse may, to some, feel halved, but it should be apparent what is happening within the song.

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