This is an extract of Elliott Carters piece Eight Etudes and Fantasy, Fantasy, mm. 16pp.


Metric modulation is used to move to a higher tempo in measure 3.

But why does Carter not just write the following:

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What does he gain by his specific writing?

  • In the first example, did Carter write "quarter = 126" in the 6/4 measure, or "quarter = triplet quarter"?
    – Richard
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 16:59
  • Hi Richard, sorry, my notation program cannot reproduce the original, but the exact header is "half note = three half notes (quarter = 126)". See youtube.com/watch?v=WqF96XKh64Q, 13:44, third voice. Commented May 28, 2021 at 10:35

1 Answer 1


Suppose I am sight-reading this piece.

With the second version, there is zero chance I will get the tempo change correct as I sight read.

The first version prompts me (especially if I'm familiar with how metric modulation works) to start counting in quarter notes rather than half notes during the 6/4 measure, and then I now can continue in exactly the right tempo as I am already counting quarter notes in the new tempo. The truth is that I probably still won't get it right on the first or second read, but I'm terrible (and inexperienced) at this.

It probably doesn't matter for someone who is going to study the piece before playing it, but you might be surprised at how often (in my experience, almost always) musicians will sight read a piece before studying it.

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