I am learning a piece at the moment which is in 4/4, however some bars look like they should be 12/8, and I am confused about the mixing of notation of sometimes triplets sometimes not. Here is the section in question: enter image description here

Consider bar 48. The right hand is an easily interpretable 4/4. But the bass staff is confusing. Ignoring the whole note in the extra voice, the first things we see are a quarter note rest, then a quarter note, and then two eight notes beamed together. Okay, that's 3 quarters used up of our 4 in 4/4. But there's still some eight note triples (another quarter), followed by three more eight notes.

So counting the left hand in 4/4 makes no sense. But, if we ignore the triplet of the third beat, then counting the left hand in 12/8 does make sense (albeit with bad beaming). But then the right and left hands don't match up in time properly. What am I missing here? To play this I've counted both staves as 12/8 (while playing the right hand notes as if they are dotted), but I am not certain how accurate I am being (and the original piece is very fast, so I can't figure it out by ear).

Then take bar 50. Right hand looks like a 12/8 (not paying attention to meter at the moment), left hand looks like a 4/4. Is the rule "because triplets are notated in one staff, if there's vertical alignment with quarter notes of the other staff, then it implies triplets in the other staff"? Or am I missing something else?

  • 2
    Hey neat, what piece is your excerpt from?
    – Dekkadeci
    Oct 1, 2020 at 11:29
  • 1
    @Dekkadeci Neat? Neat?! Oct 1, 2020 at 12:47
  • Yeah. What is it? Oct 1, 2020 at 12:52
  • "The original piece is very fast, so I can't figure it out by ear", yes you can. Tap out the beat to the recording and sing whichever line you're struggling with. Once you can do that -- you don't need to sing particularly well or even in tune -- you can do the same thing at a slower rate.
    – Esther
    Oct 1, 2020 at 13:06
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    @Alan Just from looking at it, my guess was that everything was supposed to be triplets and it's just a bad engraving. After listening to it, that's definitely the case. Just go write little 3's above everything in the left hand and it should make sense again. Also, this is an unofficial transcription, which explains the poor engraving. I'm betting the actual book has it written more clearly.
    – Alex Jones
    Oct 1, 2020 at 22:18

4 Answers 4


The first (and second) bar are odd. It would add up if the first two items in the LH - the rest and the chord, were 8ths rather than quarters. A misprint, or just rule-breaking? Did the composer want a 5/4 bar? Or maybe he wants a half-bar triplet, as in bar 50. I suspect the latter. But we shouldn't have to guess. BAD composer!

Apart from that bar, it seems to be just sloppy inclusion of triplet numbers. Sometimes he's put them in, sometimes we have to infer them. But it's pretty clear where they need to go to make everything add up. (Maybe the first 'big' triplet would be clearer as a 6:4 rather than a 3:2? But you get the idea.)

enter image description here

What's the piece? A transcription by a talented but slightly ignorant musician perhaps?

  • For a second I was wondering what LH meant. Left Hand?
    – Clockwork
    Oct 2, 2020 at 10:31
  • It's not clear at all in bars 48 and 49. Please enlighten us with your solution.
    – Tim
    Oct 4, 2020 at 16:25
  • 1
    dv'd due to the middle paragraphh.
    – Tim
    Oct 4, 2020 at 17:39

This is 4/4 time with triple 8th and triple quarter notes, but the triple sign is lacking in the first 2 bars shown on the beat 4 (with the triple 8th rest) and it should be notated also in the r.h. in the next measure (analogous to the l.h.)

Bad lay out, unclear notation. But there’s no doubt about the intention to me. The placement of the note heads is correct and tells everything.

  • The layout's OK. He's just left out some '3' markings.
    – Laurence
    Oct 4, 2020 at 15:28

You don't count note durations in these bars. The way they're written makes them uncountable.

Whether it's written in 4/4 or 12/8 doesn't make a lot of difference - were it written properly. Of course it will sound like 12/8 in parts - that's what the triplets do. But that's not the problem. It sounds a little (to me) at the point in question that there's a lot of rubato being exploited - which could be (if so) written into the dots so much more clearly. It's my guess that that's what's going on, but the writer just stuck extra beats in instead. Or that's what the computer writing mechanism felt was the best way to portray it.

  • There are surely no extra beats, just saloppe or incorrect notation. Oct 1, 2020 at 19:13
  • Keep saying it - please explain dvs - it's really positive and good for development.
    – Tim
    Oct 3, 2020 at 9:07
  • An over-complicated analysis I think! The note spacing strongly suggests that all we need to correct this is a few '3' markings.
    – Laurence
    Oct 4, 2020 at 15:24
  • @LaurencePayne - the second half of bars 48 and 49 will work - how would you propose to triplify the first half of each?
    – Tim
    Oct 4, 2020 at 16:14
  • Triplet over the first half of the bar, as in bar 50. Three quarter notes in the time of two. No matter that one's a rest and one's subdivided, the triplet still works.
    – Laurence
    Oct 4, 2020 at 23:37

Maybe (just maybe) the intended interpretation is for LH's middle voice to play an eigth triplet while LH's upper voice plays four normal eigths (one of them being a rest). Meaning that E4 should be played slightly sooner and shorter than the corresponding E3 below.

This would explain why the eigth rest is placed above the staff, in line with LH's upper voice, instead of right in the middle like the quarter rest.

(If that was indeed the intention, I agree that it is bad notation.)

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