I've noticed some of my favorite musicians went out of their way to use no beams while writing vocal melodies. Why would they choose to exclude beams?

There are beams in the music but not the vocal melody.

Here are two examples: "Ridin' Down the Canyon", by Gene Autry and Smiley Burnett; and "When It's Springtime in the Rockies", by Mary Hale Woolsey and Robert Sauer.

"Ridin' Down the Canyon", mm. 1–2

"When It's Springtime in the Rockies", mm. 9–10


This is an old-fashioned vocal notation practice. From the looks of it, the music in the question seems old enough to have been written in the traditional style.

Current musical notation standard practice uses beaming to indicate groupings of subdivisions of the beat; in a 4/4 time signature, eighth notes get beamed together in those groupings to visually demonstrate the location of the four quarter note beats in the measure.

This older style of notation for singers has beaming conventions as well. Traditionally, only notes sung on the same syllable would be beamed together. This ostensibly makes it easier to organize the syllables and notes together at sight. In the two examples in question, it happens that no two consecutive eighth notes are sung on the same syllable. This gives it the appearance that no beams are in use, when in fact beaming rules are being applied albeit to no effect.

Other differences from contemporary music notation include the doubling of note values (I would guess it to be sung at a jaunty tempo?): assuming the song is sung around the same speed I'm imagining it to be, I would expect modern notation to write those quarter notes as eighth notes. It seems a bit out-of-touch to have quarter note values represent that kind of vocal melody in the modern style, especially marked "Moderato". In the style this sheet music embodies, it is correct, but this seems dated to me.

As for why this was done? Some shallow research declares that "Ridin' Down the Canyon (When the Desert Sun Goes Down)" was published in 1941, and "When It's Springtime in the Rockies" was first released in the late 1920s (Autry's version out in 1937). These songs are 80 years old by now, and it would not surprise me if the older style of vocal notation was still in some prevalence at the time of writing. Especially so given the genre - country/western music tends to thematically embrace older times, so even if the old style was no longer the most common, I could see a writer/publisher choosing this notation convention out of respect for the history of that kind of music.


It is a common standard in vocal music to notate every syllable independently and not to beam them.

Beams are reserved for singing multiple notes on the same syllable.

The advantage to the older system of no beams is that it makes clear syllabic versus melismatic singing. The advantage of the modern system of consistent beaming is that it makes the rhythm clear. Both systems are still in use and up to the composer or editor to choose.

Compare the two images below. In the first, there are no beams, because the syllable changes on every note. In the second image, there are beams when a syllable is sung over multiple notes (melisma) and no beams when a syllable is sung to a single note.

Vocal score with no beams

Vocal score with beams


It's the old style. OK, it shows where the syllables come, and where there's a melisma (more than one note to a syllable). But it obscures the rhythmic patterns of the music. It might have something to do with vocalist's legendary inability to count! (And I don't altogether offer that in jest.)

The modern style is to beam to the rhythms as for other instruments, and to indicate melisma with a slur.

If there was any real advantage to the old style, it escapes me.

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