I am writing a piece in 4/4 which has triplets all the way. I insist it is not a "swing" feel, which I know how to notate (writing regular eight notes and adding the Swing decorator), but regular triplets.

My first approach was to write it in 12/8 and use dotted quarters as if they were regular quarters, This gives the exact sound that I need, but I'm not quite happy with this idea of a "dotted beat" (see images below).

My other thought is to use 4/4 notation and use triplets all the way, but I find this notation quite redundant.

What would be perfect would be an indication that 1 quarter = 3 eights, I've seen something similar on some sheets, but I don't know if it's possible (I use MuseScore) and above all if it's an "acceptable" notation.

What would you advise me to do?

Here are my 2 attempts:

12/8 with dotted 4ths:

sheet in 12/8

4/4 with triplets:

sheet in 4/4 with triplets

  • 3
    Why are you not happy with the idea of a dotted beat? Sep 27, 2020 at 6:15
  • I don't know, it just doesn't feel easy enough to read to me, I find the idea that a quarter note is only 2/3rds of a beat quite disturbing
    – gui3
    Sep 27, 2020 at 6:17
  • I'm not exactly sure if god himself could figure out how to play your first example.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 27, 2020 at 16:12
  • 2
    12/8 was good enough for Bach in WTC; it's good enough for you.
    – AakashM
    Sep 27, 2020 at 20:41
  • 3
    As an aside, the notation in your 12/8 version would be clearer if the half notes in the right hand were written as eighth notes tied to dotted half notes. (I suspect this is what @NeilMeyer was referring to.) Sep 27, 2020 at 21:07

3 Answers 3


The 12/8 version is absolutely standard and would give no trouble to a reasonably experienced performer.

I agree that the 4/4 version is unnecessarily cluttered. It's not unusual, however, to leave out the triplet markings for groups of three eighths once the rhythm is clearly established. For example, here's an excerpt from the Mikuli edition of Chopin's Nocturne in E minor (op. 72 no. 1)

Chopin Nocture in E minor

  • Thanks for the edits (I am no native speaker of english) and for your answer, I guess I could write all in triplets and hide them as you suggest, this seems possible in the software (quite a bit of work though).
    – gui3
    Sep 27, 2020 at 6:14
  • 4
    @gui3 I would go with 12/8. The dotted-quarter beat won't give a moment's pause to a performer familiar with the time signature. If you go with 4/4, removing the triplet brackets isn't too bad. Either select one, right click on it, and then select "Select -> All Similar Elements", or select one and then ctrl+click on whichever others you want selected. Once you have your selection made, just uncheck the "Visible" property in the Element Inspector.
    – Aaron
    Sep 27, 2020 at 6:25

If you wrote it in 4/4 with frequent or constant triplets, you'd be in good company. That is how Beethoven rendered the first movement of his piano sonata number 14 ("Moonlight") and how Ravel notated "Bolero" (think of the snare rhythm).

The Beethoven sonata may be a very helpful model because the first bar or two is usually notated with explicit triplets and then I believe a simile is written so the 3s are omitted from the rest of the movement and it's clear that it's just constant triplets in the right hand.

The decision should really be based on the overall feel of the piece - is it a 4/4 piece or a 12/8 piece? And also what kinds of rhythms appear in any other voices or parts. In the both of the examples I've given, other parts and voices clearly have 4/4 rhythms.

  • I really can't decide if it's a 4/4 or a 12/8 piece (this piece is in the making and I only have the first 10 measures written yet). Since I don't feel like having parts in straight 4/4 (8/8) this would imply it is a 12/8, but It seems to me I could add some 3/2 polyrythmic feel with a walking bass at some point, so I'm really not decided yet.
    – gui3
    Sep 27, 2020 at 7:11
  • In the example two measures of @gui3 I see rather some hints of coexistence 12/8 with 6/4 (see e.g. the half notes), which would make 12/8 more appropriate. In turn I agree, Moonlight Sonata, and in particular Boléro would look terrible in 12/8. Sep 28, 2020 at 18:26

I think half the problem is the stem direction. In the first example, it's easier to read due to the differentiation due to SATB (sort of), whereas the second example squashes it all together, with differences in the 'alto' part - notwithstanding differences in timings of certain notes.

The '4/4 v 12/8' question still stands, and there's absolutely no need to put in the triplet markings beyond the first couple of bars, where it establishes itself as the norm for most players.Yes, 12/8 is probably more 'correct', but very often we read pieces such as this in 4/4 as it's the way to go. Although from a personal point of view, out of the two, I prefer reading the first example - only because the second is unnecessarily cluttered, thus not so easy to read.

Were the second example tidied up, it would probably be the preferred of the two, generally speaking. Maybe it's the problem with Musescore, which you use to write out the dots? I find Musescore hard work sometimes.

  • from the comments and some answers, it seems that "veterans" of the site (and I assume, in reading scores) prefer the first notation (with 2 voices on right hand) while some other people seem to find this multi-voicing very difficult to read and prefer the second one...
    – gui3
    Sep 28, 2020 at 16:17
  • That may well be the case, and were you to print out both sets of dots in the same way, one in 4/4, the other in 12/8, it would be a question more fair! As it stands, there's not a direct comparison, as other changes are apparent.
    – Tim
    Sep 28, 2020 at 16:19
  • do you want me to add a 2 voice version of the 4/4 notation to the question, with the half notes highlighting the 2+4 rythm as in the 12/8 ? (sorry i'm not 100% sure to understand, I'm no english speaker)
    – gui3
    Sep 28, 2020 at 16:23
  • You're doing more than o.k! If both sets had exactly the same notation, there would be a far better comparison between them.
    – Tim
    Sep 28, 2020 at 17:01

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