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Towards the end of The Ramones' "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want to Fight)", the beat takes on a staggering quality when Joey sings "don't want to" in the chorus. In the following music video, it starts around 2:19:

The rest of the song sounds like a straightforward 4/4. What is this beat pattern called, and what is the exact structure?

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It's still 4/4 time, but the rhythm performed is called a hemiola, meaning three notes in the time normally assigned to two. Notated, it would look something like this:

X: 1
T: Hemiola
M: 4/4
K: none
L: 1/4
(3BBB (3BBB |
w: don't want to x x x

Each group of three quarter-notes lasts two beats. Put another way, each quarter-note lasts 2/3 of a beat.


UPDATE: There are two uses of "hemiola". The looser usage, as above, is for three notes placed in the time of two. However, the stricter definition requires that the 3:2 relationship occur by regrouping the basic pulses, which is not the case here. See the comments below as well as Just how specific is the term “hemiola”?.

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  • Same as the last two "Take Me Right Back To The Track, Jack" in Louis Jordan's performance of "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie", correct? – outis Jan 5 at 10:05
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    Is this really a hemiola? I'd say it's triplets. Hemiolas are not new note values (dividing a beat into three rather than two), but rather regroupings of existing note values (making three groups of two rather than two groups of three, or vice versa), at least as I understand them. – Scott Wallace Jan 5 at 13:03
  • @outis Yes, "Take me right" and "back to the" are both hemiolas. – Aaron Jan 5 at 15:50
  • @ScottWallace Hemiola is the effect of the regrouping, not the regrouping itself. When you regroup two groups of three into three groups of two, the effect is to produce three (large) beats where there were previously two. – Aaron Jan 5 at 15:52
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    @MichaelCurtis which dictionary is that? I have never encountered hemiola except to describe a twofold grouping of beats in a triple meter. That is, yes, a triplet in a certain sense, but unlike the triplets here it does not change the underlying subdivision of the beat. That is, under this definition this example might be said to be hemiola if the unmodified meter were 12/8 or if there were triplet-eighth-notes going on. The "my experience" definition of hemiola, furthermore, involves no tuplet notation at all. Most baroque music in triple meter does this right before the cadence. – phoog Jan 5 at 22:38
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Aaron has the right idea - although - it's the first half of each bar only. The drummer uses crotchet triplets for only the first half of each bar, the singer matching those three notes. More often, those sort of triplets run through a whole bar, as indicated in Aaron's answer.

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  • Not sure what you mean about the drummer and singer. They both perform the hemiola together. – Aaron Jan 5 at 9:14
  • @Aaron - listened again, and yes, the first half of the bar they both play/sing triplets. Thanks! – Tim Jan 5 at 9:38

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