I've recently heard a rhythm that sounded like this

enter image description here

It seems slightly tricky to play it perfectly, so I wonder if I could somehow improve this writing to make it more natural and "readable". For example, what if I simply wrote

enter image description here

and added some rubato in the last two notes? Could that mimic the first rhythm? Essentially I want to slow down the second note a slight bit but not lose tempo.

What would be the best approach here?

Edit: Following @endorph's answer, I realised these rhythms are actually identical, making the question slightly pointless. However, if you follow the linked audio, I would gladly hear your opinion on how to transcribe that particular rhythm.


2 Answers 2


Minor nitpick: in your first example, the semiquaver should precede the minim. That will improve readability:

enter image description here

Major nitpick: The two rhythms are identical.

A crotchet triplet can be subdivided into 12 semiquavers. We're dividing two beats into 12 equally-sized divisions. The first example splits them into a group of 3 and a group of 9; that is, 1/4 (3/12) and 3/4 (9/12).

The second example also does that, but using quavers.

If you put them into a notation program and play them back, they should sound identical.

Philosophical aside: The point of notation is to communicate.

There are many styles of music where an instrument might play slightly ahead of the beat, or behind the beat. There are many other styles where the tempo itself is very fluid. In these cases, you don't want to notate stylistic choices too precisely. It's too hard to read.

As an example, I'm currently transcribing a choir piece. There's a ridiculous amount of rubato, pauses, and other shenanigans. Almost none of that is in the actual notation, beyond a "rubato" direction at the start. That's sufficient to communicate. Anything more detailed would likely harm the performance.

Notation is designed for a human performer, not a computer. We don't try and notate every nuance of a performance, and we expect the performer to understand the piece sufficiently to reproduce stylistic details that are not explicitly notated.

  • You're right, these are the same! I should have noticed that, I feel embarrassed now haha Thank you so much for the wonderful answer. I agree with you and I like the idea that "overnotation" can harm the performance, I should definitely be careful with it. Btw, if you're curious about the audio source I was basing my writing on, take a look here: reddit.com/r/Composers/comments/m6ljgn/…
    – sam wolfe
    Mar 17, 2021 at 12:41
  • 1
    @samwolfe as a more general principle, you can keep in mind that dotting a note has the opposite effect of triplet-ing it. So a dotted note in a triplet is the same as the note without either of these modifiers. Mar 17, 2021 at 21:59
  • The correct way to notate this is OP's second example. Anything else is not 'overnotating', it's obfuscation.
    – PiedPiper
    Mar 17, 2021 at 22:40
  • @PiedPiper Definitely, in this specific case. I was trying to make the answer slightly more useful in the general case as well.
    – endorph
    Mar 17, 2021 at 23:05

I think a dotted quarter followed by an eighth tied to a quarter would be much easier to read. This doesn't break up the basic quarter-note pulse. The performer (as noted by endorph, supra) will add any subtle rhythmic changes, such as rubato, depending on the style of the music (or the performer's mood which always happens.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.