I'm learning music notation and as both a fan and enthusiast I bought the Star Trek: The Motion Picture film score from Omni Music Publishing. Unfortunately, I've encountered a confusing bit of notation in the Main Title (Bar 4, relevant parts pictured below), and I would like an explanation from more experienced musicians.

The whole piece is in 6/8 meter, but in bar 4 it changes to 2/4. However, for some parts the bar contains a dotted quarter rest, and an 8th note duplet. In my expanding but still limited knowledge, I believe this equates to 6/8, not 2/4. For some parts, the duplet is a repeat of the same in the pickup bar, which is in 6/8 with 3 beats. I have the 2012 soundtrack album, which contains a track with the early takes, and after someone starts too early, Goldsmith says "3 in the A-bar" (which I assume refers to the term "anacrusis", the pickup bar). In both the pickup bar and bar 4, the notes should play with the same duration, which I assume is essentially a dotted eight note, written as a duplet.

In addition to the above, there are also several parts with a quarter rest, then three 16th notes and one 8th note, but seemingly marked as a triplet. This doesn't seem right to me at all, as those notes do no equate to either three 16th or three 8th notes. They also don't fill up all the beats in the bar, regardless of it being a triplet or not.

I assume this is an error in the sheet music (whether in the original draft of the sheet music that the publisher used, or a publisher error), and that it is supposed to be just a 6/8 bar, but that still doesn't solve the triplet issue. It also includes a tempo change when it returns to 6/8, while in the final recordings the tempo is constant throughout.

Edit: replaced picture. To clarify, for example for the contrabass, timpani, and bass drum, the pickup bar and bar 4 are supposed to play the same (basically a "BAH-BAM" sound twice).

enter image description here

  • 1
    I think I can explain the "what" of what's going on, but not the "why." Just in case, could you add an image of the entire staff, so we can see which part is which and a bit more context before and after? Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 15:49
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    Also: Wow, you say you're "learning music notation," but either you're modestly under-selling your knowledge or you're sure jumping in at the deep end; this is a bit beyond "Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge." You might consider doing some score study of solo or chamber music repertoire too, where there are at least fewer parts to juggle. Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 15:51
  • @AndyBonner Sure, I'll replace the picture with a better one as soon as I can. On the other note, I'm not learning "from scratch", but I was a bit rusty. Don't get me wrong, I can follow along for almost all of the score, it was just this particular section that was going over my head. Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 16:34
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    It's possible that some staves are supposed to stay in 6/8 while others shift to 2/4. The topmost staff stays in 6/8, as do the two on the bottom, but many others are indeed in 2/4. If that is in fact the intention then the application of the 2/4 time signature is incorrect.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 16:39
  • @phoog I thought about this too. I have another score where that seems to happen. But that's also something a little too complicated for me to grasp (and better asked in a new question). Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 16:41

2 Answers 2


The top bar would make sense in 6/8 but the engraver seems to have forgotten the time has changed to 2/4! (It's not unheard of to notate with some instruments in 6/8, some in 2/4, but you need to SAY you're doing it!)

The bars with the triplet are sloppily written. The 3 should be further back, under the middle note of the 16th triplet. As written, it suggests that the whole group is a triplet.

If you entered this into a sequencer or notation program, playback might assume a constant 8th note speed. I assume the requirement is for a constant 2-in-a-bar speed, dotted quarter in 6/8 = quarter in 2/4. Live musicians probably wouldn't find this a problem. A computer needs telling!

There's a further issue. Whether notated as a duplet in 6/8 or an 8th in 2/4, everyone should hit the last note of the bar at the same time. Therefore they should align vertically, right down the score.

Not a very good day for that engraver :-)

Later: OK, you've made my description a bit confusing by changing the picture! But I think it's still clear what I'm talking about.

enter image description here

  • 2
    Better still, a bracket explicitly associating the 3 with those three notes. Aligning the 3 with the middle note of the group improves the situation, but it still requires a second look to decipher it.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 16:35
  • Yeah, this makes more sense. I thought the exact same thing, actually. Then I assume it's merely a matter of figuring out whether 2/4 is still correct. By ear, as much as I can follow, the timing still seems to be 6/8 (judging by the bottom part with the dotted quarter note tied to the 8th note in the duplet). Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 16:39
  • Yeah. Don't over-think this. The required rhythm is quite simple. 'One, Two-and' or 'One, Toodillie and', in perfect alignment.
    – Laurence
    Commented Nov 6, 2021 at 16:51
  • Those are not the same figures. The way it is written the entire beat is divided in to 3 subdivisions, just a basic triplet figure but the figure is further divided in to 16th notes to effectively give a sextuplet. They are entirely different rhythms. In the first you have 3 eighth note triplets while in the first you have 2 eighth notes(with the first divided in to a 16th note triplet. Almost sure how it was written was intended which is really just an eighth note triplet with the first note divided in to 16ths.
    – Gupta
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 5:09
  • @Gupta Yes, if we assume the positioning of the 3 is intentional rather than just sloppy, the rhythm becomes quite complex! To an unlikely degree, I think! This isn't a Ferneyhough score!
    – Laurence
    Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 18:18

Following the comments and provided answer, I contacted the publisher with the findings. They agreed that a mistake was made on their part, when they transcribed the original material. The entire piece is intended to be in 6/8, but some instrument parts, specifically those with the triplets, were written in 2/4. They sent me a replacement page with the fixes, which includes the now corrected triplet markings.

Though I still need to dive into the concepts of polymeter and polyrhythm, this question has been appropriately answered. Thanks everyone for the help!

  • You could read about hemiola and look at some Brahms and some Andean traditional music. A common example is to have 6 eighth-notes per measure, with the eighth-notes always of the same duration, alternating between three beats per measure and two beats per measure. The pattern of alternation can be anything. Regular or irregular. Fun! Commented Nov 8, 2021 at 10:20

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