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I wonder if there’s a name for the famous rhythm heard many times around the web. I’d like to know its origins but I can’t google it without a name. I wrote it down but I can’t describe anyway differently, so here it is: The rhythm is one of this three (those signs are just quarter pauses: sorry for the bad handwriting) It should be one of the three here, where those mysterious signs are just pauses (sorry for the bad handwrite).
Than to everybody.

Edit: I’m now thinking that probably the last note is doubled and the last pause isn’t there.

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  • Sounds like something I heard out of the Looney Tunes. – Clockwork May 15 at 10:06
  • Can't believe the number of views this simple question has encouraged. – Tim May 15 at 18:04
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    @Tim I think it has something to do with the title. I've seen that happen a lot of time with Travel Stack Exchange site, where they ask about identifying a location, using uncommon vocabulary. Some stuffs that give you the urge to just see what the question is about. – Clockwork May 15 at 19:28
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    This isn't a song identification question? – Todd Wilcox May 17 at 4:01
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    @ToddWilcox I think it falls into the same category as Name for this common rhythm in Latin music? and How do I describe the rhythm in these songs?. IMO, close enough to a "terminology" question, and well-defined enough not to run afoul of other close reasons. – Aaron May 17 at 17:00
50

The "Shave and a haircut — two bits" rhythm...

X: 1
T: Shave and a Haircut – Two Bits
T: Rhythm
K: clef=perc stafflines=1 middle=B
M: 4/4
L: 1/4
B B/2B/2 B B | z B B z |]
w: shave and a hair- cut, two bits!

...goes back at least to Charles Hale in 1899 according to Where does this famous rhythm pattern come from (oftenly used to knock on a door)?, which references Wikipedia: Shave and a Haircut.

The history is well described in the linked MusicFans.SE post; so, this being MusicPerformanceAndTheory.SE...

All three of the notations in the OP are correct; there is no canonical notation, just a set of rhythmic relationships, all of which are expressed. The eighth notes (or sixteenth notes: i.e., "and a") can be played straight or swung.

The traditional/characteristic "melody" is...

X: 1
T: Shave and a Haircut – Two Bits
T: Melody (standard)
K: none
M: 4/4
L: 1/4
c G/2G/2 A G | z B .c z |]
w: shave and a hair- cut, two bits!

...or sometimes...

X: 1
T: Shave and a Haircut – Two Bits
T: Melody (variant)
K: none
M: 4/4
L: 1/4
c G/2G/2 _A G | z B .c z |]
w: shave and a hair- cut, two bits!

...and also...

X: 1
T: Shave and a Haircut – Two Bits
T: Melody (variant 2)
K: none
M: 4/4
L: 1/4
c (3G/2^F/2G/2 _A G | z B .c z |]
w: shave and -a hair- cut, two bits! 

The final rest is sometimes replaced with a "stinger" — an instrumental accent to end a piece.

X: 1
T: Shave and a Haircut – Two Bits
T: With "stinger"
K: none
M: 4/4
L: 1/4
c G/2G/2 A G | z B .c .!>!C |]
w: shave and a hair- cut, two bits!
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  • 1
    @trlkly I see your note and raise you an updated post. Thanks for the observation. – Aaron May 15 at 4:43
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    Great answer, but I usually hear this with the middle two eighth-notes "swung"; that is, played as a triple without the middle note. "And" is a twelfth-note, then a twelfth-rest, then "a" is another twelfth note. Is that just understood when playing the two eighths? – JounceCracklePop May 15 at 5:54
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    It is definitely Shave and a Haircut, though an early memory for me is the chorus line to the 1955 jazz tune Cloudburst. – user138719 May 15 at 16:49
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    "No 'toon can resist the old 'shave and a haircut' trick". - I feel old now, @MichaelSeifert – AnoE May 17 at 12:29
14

It's known as "shave and a haircut".

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    @ggcg That's a variant — usually 2 bits. – Aaron May 14 at 23:46
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    I learned it as 6 bits. Inflation i guess – user50691 May 14 at 23:59
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    Roger Rabbit said "two bits", so I reckon that's definitive :-) – Mark Bluemel May 16 at 19:41
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    @DarrelHoffman source please, I highly doubt that. In the early days there also could be 6bits (among other values) in a byte, depending on the hardware. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byte – Swedgin May 17 at 15:27
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    @DarrelHoffman 'Claude E. Shannon first used the word "bit" in his seminal 1948 paper "A Mathematical Theory of Communication".[7][8][9] He attributed its origin to John W. Tukey, who had written a Bell Labs memo on 9 January 1947 in which he contracted "binary information digit" to simply "bit".' (SOURCE) See also: etymonline.com/word/bit and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byte. – Aaron May 17 at 15:29

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