This question was sparked by many answers and comments on the site which describe 6/4 as a compound meter of 2 groups of dotted half notes (1 & a 2 & a), rather than the way I've always used and heard it (mainly in prog rock and metal genres) as simple meter of 6 groups of quarter notes (1&2&3&4&5&6&) or, if you prefer, a complex meter of 4/4 + 2/4 (1&2&3&4&1&2& 1&2&3&4&1&2&).

I've also been trying to write a piece that is in a complex meter of 4/4 + 1/8 (count 1&2&3&4&5 1&2&3&4&5) so mathematically that would be 9/8 but yet 9/8 feels like it should always be a compound triple meter.

Is there a standard way to denote that a piece should be interpreted as having a certain feel which differs from the "standard" interpretation of the meter, or are there alternate meters that would better convey my ideas?

  • 2
    4/4 + 2/4 might rather be written as 3/2. – leftaroundabout Dec 12 '20 at 12:49

There's not a definitive standard, but there are various conventions.

One option is to include two time signatures: the "actual" time signature and, parenthetically, the "compound" version expressing the metrical divisions.

Time signature with parenthetical secondary signature

Another option would be to include, say, a dotted barline to help visually divide the measure.

Use of dotted barline to set off 1/8

As the previous two examples make clear, the notation itself can make clear the intended metric divisions. Baring eighth-notes in groups of four rather than three, or use of quarter notes rather than dotted quarters, signals strongly the intended interpretation, even in the absence of a "fancy" time signature.

9/8 time signature with clear note beaming

And finally, if needed, you can add accents to really make clear where the metric stresses should be.

9/8 time signature clarified by accents

  • Interesting, especially the second option. – dissemin8or Dec 11 '20 at 22:21
  • I have been repeatedly told to not bar notes like dotted 8th note-dotted 8th note-8th note on NinSheetMusic (a video game transcription website I have contributed to) and to use dotted 8th note-16th note-tie-8th note-8th note instead. This implies that the unorthodox beaming may not be considered "proper notation" and may in fact impede readability rather than improve it. – Dekkadeci Dec 12 '20 at 15:23
  • 1
    @Dekkadeci These are not unorthodox beamings, they're orthodox beamings of unorthodox metre. It's pretty difficult to comment on the example you give without context, but in most metres, ♪.♪♪ ought not be beamed because it's not a "complete" group -- it would be perfectly correct in something like a duple metre subdivided into 7s. – Esther Dec 14 '20 at 1:59

Adding to the other answer, which covers the 9/8 case very well.

The 6/4 example should probably be written in alternating 4/4 and 2/4 bars -- you can put both time signatures at the start of the piece like Tchaikovsky does here. enter image description here

Literally the only 6/4 beaming that will unambiguously convey what you're after is 8 + 4, which is going to look very strange and only helps if you don't have any intervening crotchets. You could try halving all your note values and write it in 6/8, but it'll look even worse and upset traditionalists. You might decide that 3/2 is "close enough", but it's not an approximation I'd personally settle for. Alternating time signatures definitely seems the way to go.


have a look at Bartok’s Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythms (Mikrokosmos) for ideas

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