Any idea how to play this piece? The notes doesn't add up to 8/4, and there are some white oval notes, which I've never encountered before. Also, what does "Air" mean on the second staff?

Edit: The staves are also connected by braces. Does that mean they're meant to played together? But the note values are really weird.

"Zabur 40" with 8/4 time signature

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    Very intriguing, and I have some ideas, but can you tell more about the piece and where you found it? Some easy answers: The "ovals" are just half notes; that's just how they're styled in this printing. And "Air" marks the start of a new section, following the "Prelude" section. Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 20:44
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    @AndyBonner - There are multiple measures with 9 quarter notes and at least one measure with 7 quarter notes. Something's up.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 23:25
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    Is there a block of text below this music? It says "words from beginning" in the middle of the score. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 12:52
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    @Dekkadeci Note that the 7 beat measures all end in a repeat bar, with the 8th beat after the repeat (and sometimes at the beginning of the next repeated section). So the repeat bars don't have to be at the end of a bar in this notation. The 9 beat ones Aaron has explained in his answer, all involving a down-stem which is not actually part of the total beat count. Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 18:38

1 Answer 1


The piece shown in the question is from the Punjabi psalter of 1908, which compiled the 150 psalms into a collection metrically appropriate for the Punjabi language. The complete collection can be found at http://tehillimresources.com/. The particular psalm (Zabur) in question is found with Zabur 39, at the bottom of PDF page 3.)

Notice that in every bar with "too many beats", one of the notes has a downward stem and is of the same duration as the preceding note. This is an indication that it and the preceding note should each be sung at half their value. When this is done, the notes exactly match the expected meter.

This "dual" notation is to accommodate verses in which the corresponding words have different numbers of syllables.

Here are the opening few measures, re-notated according to more familiar conventions.

Renotated Zabur 40

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Commented Sep 21, 2022 at 15:10
  • Great research: both historically and also in reading music scores. I can "kind of" read music scores, but not very well. Commented Sep 23, 2022 at 14:17
  • I just realized this song have bracket on the staves, what does this mean?
    – will
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 5:07
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    @will It's just to show that each staff is part of the same song. It doesn't affect the performance.
    – Aaron
    Commented Sep 24, 2022 at 5:09
  • "to accommodate verses in which the corresponding words have different numbers of syllables": do you have a source for this? Can you give an example using the words found in the hymnal to illustrate how this works? What is the source of the image at the bottom of the answer?
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 8:03

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