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Can I write tied notes instead of half notes? tied dotted quarter + an eighth note? If not how can I write this better?

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12/8 is essentially 4 lots of 3 quavers, and needs to be written out in that pattern. True, the sum total for one bar is 12 quavers, or 6 crotchets, if you like, but it represents compound, not simple time, as 4/4 is.

As it stands, assuming that's one whole bar, then you have the equivalent total note value, but in 12/8, it isn't written thus.

With nothing else to go on, the time signature for what's there could easily be 3/2. But perhaps you mean 'how can I write 3 equal notes in a bar of 12/8?' Then, you could simply make them three triplets, which most readers would understand.

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A is 'correct'. B is quite acceptable in modern usage. C is another option.

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As with any notation, you want to make clear where the main beats begin. In your example, it's unclear where beats 2, 3, and 4 are; they're somewhere hidden in the middle of each of those notes.

As you've guessed, you'll need to clarify this with ties and note values other than half notes. Consider the notation below:

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This notation clearly shows where beats 2, 3, and 4 are by giving them each their own dedicated notehead. (You don't need to have the "2", "3", and "4" above the staff; that's just for explanatory purposes.) By showing where these beats lie, you help guide your performers through the measure.

I should, however, show one other possibility, albeit a much less commonly used one. If the tempo is fast enough (so that the 12/8 really occurs in 2 as opposed to 4), it could be helpful to clarify them as triplets:

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But this is best saved for only certain occasions. If the tempo is such that the 12/8 is felt in four, then most musicians would perform the above example far more accurately than they would this one.

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  • How does the reader know (short of counting time across the whole bar) that the triplet there is 3-in-the-time-of-4 instead of the more usual 3-in-the-time-of-2?
    – gidds
    Oct 25 at 13:54
  • @gidds Seems to me the 3-for-two would normally be notated with quarters. Also, as a performer, I like the triplet notation; it always makes you stop for a second and think, but it's visually easier to parse than the tie-based one. Oct 25 at 14:03
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    I've always felt that tuplet notation, while very useful, uses the wrong number. I don't need to be told how many notes (or, strictly, beats) are included — that's obvious at a glance! What I need to know is how much time to stretch/squash them into, and that's not so obvious…
    – gidds
    Oct 25 at 14:17
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    @AndyBonner If the 3-for-2 were notated with crotchets/quarters, then the result would occupy only 2 of them, i.e. only a third of the 12/8 bar. Even the example in this answer makes no sense to me — it gives 3 minims/halfs, which would normally take 12 quavers/eighths, and squeezes them so that they occupy… 12 quavers/eights! To use the normal triplet notation which squeezes 3 into the time of 2, that would need dotted minims/halfs.
    – gidds
    Oct 25 at 14:23
  • @gidds Fair point, I forgot we were in 12/8. But I'm not sure, tbh, whether one ever mucks about with dotted notes in a tuplet... Oct 25 at 19:23
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Another alternative is to change the time signature to 3/2 for this measure, and then back to 12/8. As with Richard's suggestion of a triplet notation, it's best saved only for certain occasions.

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