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I found myself listening to Mumford and Sons' Babel, and my friend and I couldn't quite agree on how to describe the rhythm. I won that battle since my way led to groups of four figures, whereas his led to groups of six. So, this rhythm:

Mumford and Sons' Babel

(Ignore the inconsistent line-widths (still), it is not an indication of stress. I'll try again with png and hard-coded res.)

That thing at the end, is that a hemiola or what?

Wikipedia says

Were the metrical impulse to be not a three-beat pattern changing to a two beat one (as in the Mozart example above), but one where a two-beat impulse changes to a three-beat one, the pattern of 2:3 would be known as subsesquialtera.

But the terms appear to apply only to whole measures, not partial measures, so would it be a demi-subsesquialtera?

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+1 - great words. Never used 'em myself, but aren't they great :-) –  Dr Mayhem Oct 22 '12 at 8:30
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Yeah, I wanted to, but couldn't quite decide how to comment on them. Learning how to pronounce subsesquialtera definitely makes one a nerd. Similar, I'm sure, may be said of learning how to spell it. ;) –  luser droog Oct 22 '12 at 8:49
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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The Harvard Dictionary of Music defines Sesqui- as "Prefix used to denote fractions whose numerator is larger by one than the denominator, e.g., sesquialtera: 3:2 (one plus one half)." It goes on to say that "Another term for sesquialtera is hemiola."

It seems that they are two words for the same thing really. Both words, in early music theory, could also refer to ratios of intervals as well as with temporal values. The word "Sesquialtera" is also strongly connected with an organ stop that combined the octave and the fifth.

The words were probably originally used in different contexts; however, as music history rolled along, they became interchangeable.

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It would be a hemiola if you were trying to cram the six eighth notes into the time that two quarter notes should occupy. However, simply defining them to be split up the way you have them is not a hemiola per se, as you don't really have "three against two."

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...So what is it? –  luser droog Jan 9 '13 at 16:25
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It could be three bars of 6/8 followed by a 3/4 bar. –  aeismail Jan 9 '13 at 18:09
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