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?

  • 5
    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, 2022 at 19:54
  • 2
    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, 2022 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, 2022 at 20:06
  • 1
    @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, 2022 at 20:14
  • 1
    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, 2022 at 20:36

2 Answers 2


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.


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.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.