This is the first measure of the accordion part of Fracanapa, a Tango from Astor Piazzolla (you can easily find it on YouTube).

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In the first 19 measures the meter of the accordion part is 3,3,2 and you can understand it by the accents and the slurs.

I was wondering if (at least today) wouldn't be better writing it like this:

enter image description here

Would that be correct? Wouldn't that allow you to better grasp the meter of the piece?

Thanks, g.

  • All depends, it seems. The notation in your second picture is precisely the beaming notation I've found in the Royal Conservatory of Music printing of "Spring Celebration" by Stephen Chatman I have (yes, this has influenced my beaming). It is also beaming notation that updaters at NinSheetMusic, a piano transcription website I frequent and have contributed to, continually tell me to avoid.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 12:46
  • 6
    When I read the question, the first rhythm was completely clear to me; the second I initially misread as triplets. I would without question prefer the first notation.
    – Aaron
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 13:51
  • 1
    @Aaron I had the same comment from a composer friend.
    – G. Lari
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 14:03
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    The accents and articulation are there to contrast against the duple meter of the piece. Barring it as triplets/duplets, implies a change to the actual metric composition.
    – Thomas N
    Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 14:18
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    Compare , for fun, with the rhythm of Blue Rondo Alla Turk, which is in 9/8 but played (for a while, anyway) as 2-2-2-3 . musicnotes.com/sheetmusic/mtd.asp?ppn=MN0049792 Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 15:25

3 Answers 3


Except for older vocal practice (where the beaming follows the syllables), beams are strictly following the indicated meter and are an important performance indication. Indeed, the beaming you suggest would strongly suggest playing triplets.

It is particularly bad, actually, for notating a Tango Nuevo rhythm that lives from the tension of its strong syncopation. Your suggested notation makes no difference between first and second group of three and thus detracts from the Tango frame being 4-2-2 with the second note coming as a surprise early attack, giving the Argentinian Tango dancer a more cat-like predatory gait than the stiffer stop-and-go of the European ballroom Tango.

  • I agree, +1, I have very little experience playing tango but did do a few concerts of Piazzolla music on bass a few years ago. The second attack has a syncopation feel which makes regular 4/4 a better choice over 3-3-2 beaming. The other issue is when other rhythms that are simple to read in 4/4 are introduced they will sometimes look very odd with the 3-3-2 grouping. Commented Apr 27, 2021 at 19:18

I'd say that's a bit borderline choice.

I don't completely agree with those who say that the second example suggests triplets: while implicit triplets are considered normal writing practice, they rarely exist since the beginning of the piece (or the section), and at least the first group(s) or bar explicitly write it.

Yes, from a first glance they can look like triplets, but after seeing the first full bar it's clear that they are not (also, the "Tempo di Tango" is an important hint).

Also, when writing, it's important to consider the "target audience" of the score (as in the reader, not the listener). A musician accustomed to that repertoire would never have a doubt about that.

Then, the example referenced by Carl Witthoft is an interesting one to consider.

In that case the rhythm is clearly played for both the melody and the accompaniment, meaning that the actual metre is not 3+3+3 but 2+2+2+3.
This tango style is not that different, though: the whole rhythm section plays 3+3+2, and the melody usually follows a very similar pattern.

Considering this, using the same writing pattern would be coherent (and correct).

The problem comes when any rhythm stops following that pattern.
Let's take a basic rhythm:

basic rhythm

Grouping should always follow the meter structure, so it means that then you should theoretically do this:

aaaargh rhythm

That is clearly terrible. Any musician would want to throw something at you for that.

The fact is: for meters clearly based on 4/4 (no matter their "groove"), it's usually unnecessary to use those subdivisions. They usually make sense only for complex pieces in which there are lots of meter changes with additive rhythms, so when it comes an actual 3+3+2 you really should write it in that way (even with the difficult writing above).

Then again, it depends on who's reading. For a rhythm section (bass, percussions, etc), it totally makes sense to have a 3+3+2 grouping. As a percussionist, I'd prefer it for this kind of music, since it really makes it clear what is the feeling I've to transmit in my playing, especially if no multiple rests are used: since most percussion instruments don't have a real sustain, having lots of rests is just distracting.
A typical and often preferred writing would be like this (note the staccato dots):

rhythm section

  • "Grouping should always follow the meter structure, so it means that then you should theoretically do this:" The example below that sentence, I don't quite see how the notation below follows from the rhythm above it. Why split the first half note into a dotted quarter and an eighth note? The half note already shows the middle of the measure perfectly fine, and if you absolutely had to split that half-note, why not tie two quarter notes together instead, which would at least show where each beat lies?
    – user45266
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 21:12
  • @user45266 that's how the grouping of the rhythm of the first example could theoretically be shown in a 3+3+2 pattern grouping. Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 22:31

The excerpt provided suggests that the time signature is actually 8/8, and not 4/4 at all.
This breaks down into 3+3+2/8 (just like 9/8 but with the last quaver cut off).

Sww Sww Sw
123 456 78

Beaming in this time signature will be as you have suggested – three quavers, three quavers, two quavers.

  • Yes, absolutely. In this sense my question could be reworded as "Would be ok write this tango as 8/8 etc. etc."
    – G. Lari
    Commented Apr 28, 2021 at 7:04

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