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I have a 12/8 rhythm that has beats on the x's below:

1 + + 2 + + 3 + + 4 + +
x     x     x   x   x

I vaguely remember hearing a name for this years ago. Is it some kind of clave? Is there a name for it?

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  • 1
    This article by Brad Mehldau might be of interest: Rock Hemiolas.
    – Aaron
    Nov 20 '20 at 13:24
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There are several rhythms that use the 3-3-2-2-2 pulse in flamenco music from Spain. One of the most well known is Bulerías, a seemingly simple but very complex sounding rhythm made even more complex by the fact that they count starting on 12 instead of 1 So the basic accents fall on:

12..3..6.8.10.

An often used variation is:

12..3....78.10.

This gives the 3-3-2-2-2 pulse you are asking about.

In other styles that emulate a Spanish flavor, some of the most well known occurrences of this is “America” from “West Side Story” and the main theme from “Man of La Mancha”. I have played the latter show and this rhythm is used in a few songs in the score of that show. In La Mancha they wrote it as alternating bars of 6/8 and 3/4 but in America I believe they just wrote it in 6/8 with every other bar having the accents on beats 1, 3 and 5.

Someone with a more detailed knowledge of Flamenco music and dance can likely give you names of other rhythms that use this basic count such as Soleares, Alegrias and Peteneras (kudos @jsantander) but hopefully this will at least point you in the right direction.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Dom
    Nov 21 '20 at 23:35
  • What does "they count starting on 12" actually mean? Does it mean that "12 - - 3 - - 6 - 8 - 10 -" is the same rhythm as "1 - - 4 - - 7 - 9 - 11 -" and they simply use different numbers when talking about it? Or does it mean that in the rhythm "12 - - 3 - - 6 - 8 - 10 -," the second beat is logically the first beat in some sense, and so the rhythm is effectively actually "- - 3 - - 6 - 8 - 10 - 12"? Jun 10 at 16:28
  • @TannerSwett I don’t have the experience with that style to explain it but this video does around the 2 minute mark youtu.be/9ophgWK8dMs To me it sounds like 1-4-7-9-11 but they think of it and play it differently. Jun 10 at 18:26
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This is an example of hemiola

From the Oxford Companion to Music (2nd ed., Alison Latham, 2002)

Hemiola: In modern notation, a hemiola occurs when two bars in triple meter (e.g., 3/2) are performed as if they were notated as three bars in duple meter (6/4) and vice versa.

The Wikipedia entry linked above goes on to say that when the 3:2 ratio occurs simultaneously -- that is, one part is in three while another is in two -- the term is sesquialtera. However, the term does not appear in the OCM.

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    I think this is the term i heard years ago
    – JamesFaix
    Nov 20 '20 at 0:45
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    @LaurencePayne If by "We're not discussing hemiola" you mean "this is the dictionary definition of hemiola", then I totally agree with you.
    – Aaron
    Nov 20 '20 at 3:10
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    No answer to the original question would be complete unless hemiola was mentioned.
    – Jos
    Nov 20 '20 at 8:50
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    @LaurencePayne The section in the linked article explicitly calls out this rhythm pattern in the section on horizontal hemiola: "It is "a cliché of various Spanish and Latin American musics ... well established in Spain since the sixteenth century", a twelve-beat scheme with internal accents, consisting of a 6/8 bar followed by one in 3/4, for a 3 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 2 pattern." That's exactly what is described in the question.
    – shhalahr
    Nov 20 '20 at 12:52
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    "sesquialtera" is discussed here I see it as a synonym of hemiola. Simultaneous 3 against 2 is often described as a hemiola cross-rhythm or simply a 3 against 2 cross-rhythm. Nov 20 '20 at 13:22
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Colloquially it's often described as 'that rhythm from 'America' (West Side Story).

enter image description here

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    'Is there a name for it?' I reckon ten times more folk would call it 'America' compared with 'hemiola'...
    – Tim
    Nov 20 '20 at 9:02
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    Why isn't it hemiola? What does hemiola have that this rhythm doesn't?
    – phoog
    Nov 21 '20 at 1:48
  • OK, it's hemiola. Nov 21 '20 at 14:37
  • @LaurencePayne my question wasn't rhetorical. I agree that this isn't what I would associate with the term, but I am at a loss to define the difference.
    – phoog
    Jan 5 at 23:25
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Your rhythm is reminiscent of Arabic rhythms, which of course are an influence on Flamenco music. Check this out: https://www.maqamworld.com/en/iqaa/warshan_arabi.php

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    Thanks for your answer, and welcome. Problem for the future with links is they can suffer from linkrot, leaving answers like this pretty empty.
    – Tim
    Nov 21 '20 at 17:21

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