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I'm arranging a piece in 4/4 with a syncopated 3+3+2 Latin rhythm throughout, and am wondering which (if either) would be the better way to notate. Here's the first notation, which emphasizes these 3+3+2 groupings in both the left and right hand.

Here's a recording I made of the arrangement if hearing it would help:

Youtube - Aquatic Ruin Zone Piano Solo

I'm arranging a piece in 4/4 with a syncopated 3+3+2 Latin rhythm throughout, and am wondering which (if either) would be the better way to notate. Here's the first notation, which emphasizes these 3+3+2 groupings in both the left and right hand.

Here's the second notation, which uses traditional rhythmic notation. I'm thinking that since this piece emphasizes this 3+3+2 rhythm, the top would be the better option, but I'd like some help. Thank you!

Here's the second notation, which uses traditional rhythmic notation. I'm thinking that since this rhythm emphasizes this 3+3+2 rhythm, the top would be the better option, but I'd like some help. Thank you!

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  • Dotted rests are normally to be avoided in non-compound meters (and some would say even in compound meters). Especially in the second example, measure 9 should begin with a quarter rest and an eighth rest. – phoog Jan 4 at 22:59
  • For the left hand I'd say neither - beam the eighths that cross the middle of the bar (the C's and D's), but turn the ones inside a half bar (the E's) into quarter notes. – Javier Jan 5 at 14:28
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I would stray away from your first notation, as you've sensed. Trained musicians won't find it too confusing, but it's uncommon enough that it may occasionally trip someone up. (I admit that your last measure in the right hand, with the dotted-quarter rest, looks really strange to me even though I know exactly what it's saying. It's just not something we're used to seeing.)

I would thus recommend your second (the "traditional") solution, where you clearly show beat 3 of each measure. But perhaps you could augment it with some further information in the score; one solution could be to suggest the 3+3+2 grouping at the start of the piece:

enter image description here

If that's a little much, a helpful description alongside the tempo could also work:

enter image description here

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  • I've gone with the 3+3+2/8 in parenthesis at the start, thank you very much! Would you agree with PiedPiper's and Chasley's assessments below? Thank you so much for your help! Lastly, do you know any resources where I can learn all this kind of information? I'd love to be able to read up on correct notation rules in depth. – Philip Walker Jan 4 at 22:29
  • @PhilipWalker Yes, I agree with their comments, as well. As for notating rhythm, I can point you to What is the clearest way to notate this rhythm?; the accepted answer there is a great introduction to what you're looking for. – Richard Jan 5 at 0:03
  • Both of these work fine for this musician -- I wouldn't complain if the composer split into measure pairs, notated as 6/8-2/8 so long as a "eighth note = eighth note" instruction is included. But that's not as nice as these two – Carl Witthoft Jan 5 at 18:01
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Based on my experience reading and playing many Latin styles over the years, write it in 4/4. There really should be no special accommodation for 3-3-2 rhythms in this piece and in general, Latin music. This piece does not always use the 3-3-2 rhythmic grouping. Both hands play rhythms and patterns at times that are 100% 4/4. If you write it in 3-3-2, the times when you DON’T do 3-3-2 you are going to have some very unusual looking rhythms. On the other hand, in 4/4, musicians are very used to reading the syncopations one uses to imply a 3-3-2 feel.

Latin music has a lot of 8th note syncopations and in my experience Latin players mainly think of a sustained note on the 2+ as a push or syncopation into the 3rd beat as opposed to 123-123-12.

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  • My pleasure and great job on the piece! I reiterate, there are a lot of things there that are best served writing in 4/4, like the quarter triplets and the 1-2 or 3-4 quarter note rhythms. Stick to 4/4, show the imaginary bar line on beat 3 and you’re golden! – John Belzaguy Jan 4 at 23:33
  • I agree. My experience is mostly with Piazzolla (or at least that's the sheet music I have around me). Writing (3+3+2) is fussy and unnecessary, while also being insufficient: the tango scores I've played from all use an accent to notate the feel as it changes – jberryman Jan 5 at 19:58
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Neither of the first gives a 3+3+2 rhythm in the bass. I've looked a lot of Latin music from Cuban, Brazilian, Argentinian, etc. and all of them use the following: dotted quarter, eighth-tied-to-quarter, quarter. I tend to think of this rhythm as two dotted-quarters followed by a quarter, but I haven't seen it notated that way. The point as mentioned in other replies is to mark the halfway spot in the measure. Especially on a piano, the melody part may not agree rhythmically with any of the bass but the suggested notation will be easy to read. (The drums play other patterns that interlock with the 3+3+2 to give a more complex rhythm.

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You could improve this to be in line with recommended standards for notation.

  • First bar RH: the second version would be more usual, but the first works.
  • Fourth bar: never write dotted rests except in compound time. There should be a quarter note rest and an eight note rest.
  • First bar LH: the middle of the bar should always be visible, so your second version is better, except the E should be one quarter note. Same for bar 4 and for the D in bar 3.
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  • Regarding your last tip about the LH tied eighth notes, what did you mean by the middle of the bar should always be visible? Also, do you know any resources where I can learn all this kind of information? I'd love to be able to read up on correct notation rules in depth. – Philip Walker Jan 4 at 22:30
  • @PhilipWalker that means that you should always have a note on (for example) the third beat in 4/4, which is tied to a previous note if necessary. There must be some unexpressed criterion relating to note values, however, because one doesn't do this with dotted quarter notes or whole notes in 4/4, nor with syncopation at the level of quarter+half+quarter. The rule also does not apply to 3/4 or other triple meters. – phoog Jan 4 at 23:03
  • @PhilipWalker There's a good summary of notation recommendations here: blogs.iu.edu/jsomcomposition/music-notation-style-guide – PiedPiper Jan 8 at 21:13
  • @PiedPiper Thank you so much, this is exactly what I was looking for! – Philip Walker Jan 9 at 20:11
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I found this fragment

enter image description here

very difficult to interpret at first sight. It's hard to see how many parts there are (it kind of looks like three) and it therefore feels as though some rests are missing.

I think the second A-quaver should be tied to the D instead of to the previous three quavers. That way we can immediately see there are two parts and not three. It also maintains the 1-2-3 of the first beat.

enter image description here

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