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I sometimes see tuplets in written music that don't appear to serve any purpose, where the duration within the tuplet is the same as the duration the tuplet occupies as a whole. For example, I recently came across the following:

4:4 tuplet

Here, the tuplet is clearly meant to take a single beat (the snippet comes from a 4/4 piece), but 4 16th notes already take a single beat without the tuplet.

The first time I saw a tuplet of this sort, I assumed it was simply an oversight. However, I've run into a few similar cases since then, so I'm forced to conclude that it probably does have actual meaning.

What is the purpose of these apparently redundant tuplets?

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    Any chance that all these encounters are in lower-quality, amateur-produced sheet music? In plain old 4/4, no, there would be no reason for this. Jan 31 at 19:54
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    I can see this in certain contexts like when going to and from a swing passage or a triplet heavy section like a courtesy accidental would. If you can give the piece it may give more info and background we need.
    – Dom
    Jan 31 at 19:57
  • Most (probably all, but I haven't been keeping track) of them were from amateurs—that was my initial assumption as well. However, I've seen it from multiple people (and in otherwise good-quality sheet music), so I wasn't sure.
    – user85251
    Jan 31 at 20:06
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    @Dom The example I gave came from musescore.com/user/5773286/scores/5487574. Unfortunately, I haven't kept track of other places I've seen this, so I can't comment on those. However, in this one at least, it only happens when another part has triplets, so I think your "courtesy accidental" theory is likely to be right.
    – user85251
    Jan 31 at 20:14
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    Yeah, that is by no means the only problem in that score. Let's see: there are two staves labeled "Bb Trumpet," and both contain 3-note chords. Easy enough for midi, but makes no sense for a human ensemble (with 6 horns!). Um, despite saying "Bb trumpet," they appear to be notated at concert pitch. The Electric Bass and "Contrabasses" have an "8" on the bass clef, but sounding at 16-foot range is assumed for bass and not usually indicated. In m 4 and throughout, the beaming crosses a beat unnecessarily. In m. 12 trumpet parts, besides the beaming, the eighth rests are problematically offset... Jan 31 at 20:36

2 Answers 2

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I think I see the motivation: at the same time as the violin 16ths, the "drumset" has a 16th-note triplet: enter image description here

However, as noted in my comment, this score does not adhere to standard typesetting practices, so it shouldn't be a great concern (in that particular measure, every other instrument has problematic rhythmic notation).

As Dom mentioned, legitimate uses for such a "4" tuplet might be as a courtesy following 3-based subdivisions. A "2" on a pair of eighth notes would be much more common, for instance in 6/8.

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In Swing/Jazz feeling passages, tuplets basically say "I mean it", escaping the manner in which note lengths are usually changed. In this case, 4 equal notes. The score "Moon Prism Power Make Up" shows among other instruments electric guitar and bass, and vibraphone and drum set. While the tempo given is just ♩=150 (a rather brisk tempo) one may expect some slight "feeling" particularly coming from the drum. The part of the quadruplets is against a triplet passage in the drums: apparently it is important to the composer/arranger that drums and violins don't slop over this difference in spite of the high speed.

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