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In correct music notation, can a tuplet (like a triplet or a quintuplet) cross a barline?

I have never seen this, but if it's not allowed, why not? It looks to me like it should be possible.

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    Possibly related: youtube.com/watch?v=F4TyBe6AHEI Nov 8, 2022 at 3:40
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    It's allowed alright, but both the first and the second bar probably need to have at least one other tuplet of the same proportions to make the math add up. Nov 8, 2022 at 8:14
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    @Aaron I do not see how the linked question answers this one, after glancing through the answers nothing seems to be about tuplets.
    – Lazy
    Nov 8, 2022 at 8:37
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    Yes, it can be done. But be aware that this might lead to situations that are hard to perform. Also many popular modern notation programs such as Finale, Sibelius or MuseScore do like to think in measures and won’t allow you to do this. This then requires hacky solutions such as joining measures and drawing "artificial" barlines or creating smaller tuplets and hiding and moving around stuff to make it look like one big tuplet. Dorico and Lilypond support this properly, but this lack of support does not encourage use in modern compositions.
    – Lazy
    Nov 8, 2022 at 8:53
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    @Aaron I hope you aren't suggesting that 12/8 is a meter composed of triplets. Nov 8, 2022 at 12:10

4 Answers 4

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(We're all clear on the difference between irregular beam groups and tuplets? Good.)

Beamed groups across barlines (example A) are unquestionably acceptable.

Tuplet groups across barlines (example B) are 'impossible' by the rules of traditional notation, but like irrational time signatures (4/7, 5/3 etc.) are becoming more common.

enter image description here

I used Sibelius to make the example, and had to cheat - the bars containing triplets are really one 4/4 bar with a graphic barline. Dorico is more amenable, though this description of how to do it includes a telling remark:

"...as an editor, I rarely find barline-spanning tuplets to be notational best practice, given that usually the same material can be re-notated in much more conventional ways, thereby improving the readability of the underlying meaning without impairing it. So the thought of seeing more tuplets over barlines in the near future just because they are cool and can now easily be done is not something that fills me with joy."

(It then goes on to admit a use for cross-barline notes in some ancient music.)

https://www.scoringnotes.com/tips/use-doricos-tuplets-barline-feature-proper-mensural-notation/

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  • Tuplets across bar lines are not impossible, though like any other note crossing a bar line, they require a tie.
    – phoog
    Nov 8, 2022 at 13:19
  • @phoog Usage has moved on a bit since that rule was established.
    – Laurence
    Nov 8, 2022 at 13:42
  • We're talking about the rules of traditional notation. But what are you talking about? In what context do notes crossing a bar line not require a tie?
    – phoog
    Nov 8, 2022 at 13:46
  • At B, the third bar, 1/2 + 3/3 + 2/3, that's more than 2 beats?!? Did I miss something? If it isn't metrical why use time signatures and barlines? Nov 8, 2022 at 13:57
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    @brilliant. "...one half of that triplet's duration belongs to the first measure, and the other half, to the next one...." Yes. But this notation does not visually show that. It doesn't show 1/2 before the bar line and 1/2 after the bar line. It shows 2/3 before the bar line and 1/3 after the bar line. The actual values don't match the visual reading of the measured notation. Why force a bar line into that notation when it can be avoided with a meter change? That seems to be the point of the quotation. Nov 8, 2022 at 17:06
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I think there are several possible interpretations of "tuplets crossing a barline", but I wouldn't consider any of them to be impossible.

A few cases I can think of, from the late Romantic period (all sourced from IMSLP):

  1. Tuplets, beamed across the barline, but with notes aligning with the downbeat (Brahms, Variations on a theme of Paganini):

triplets beamed across the barline, from Brahms' variations This example aligns the tuplet '3' with the final note of the beams, so the bars are six triplet-quavers each, but beamed across the barline. This choice isn't universal; some publishers align the tuplet '3' with the middle note of the beams:

triplets beamed across the barline, from Brahms' variations, but with the tuplet 3 aligned with the beams

  1. Tuplets, beamed across the barline, with no clear indication of whether the notes are supposed to align with the downbeat or not (Scriabin, Prelude Op.11 No.1): an example of tuplets beamed across the barline, from Scriabin's prelude and also (same piece): another example of tuplets beamed across the barline, from Scriabin's prelude, with a metrically-unclear left hand rhythm The first bar starts with two (quintuplet?) quavers; the final bar isn't missing any duration to compensate. Exactly how the left-hand crotchets match up with the right-hand quintuplets is unclear.

  2. Tuplets, beamed across the barline, with notes definitely not aligning with the downbeat (Godowsky, Studies on Chopin's Etudes, No. 19): an example of tuplets crossing the barline, from Godowsky Here the lower voice in the right hand is playing triplet quavers, offset by a non-triplet quaver; the tuplet clearly crosses the bar (and the middle triplet-quaver is correspondingly split into two tied triplet-semiquavers). (The final triplet, in the last bar, is three triplet-semiquavers, to compensate for the initial non-triplet-quaver rest in the first bar, and re-align the notes with the barline again.)

Whether you'd consider the first two examples to be "tuplets crossing the barline", I don't know - I think I would, but if you wanted to argue that the tuplets were within-bar and just beamed weirdly, I think that's also valid. I think the last example is fairly unarguable, though.

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It seems worth considering whether it's better to fake the bar line placement or just change the time signature...

enter image description here

In the first instance you would logically need to draw the dot on the bar line, or draw it before the bar line to show it starts before the bar line, but then you end up with a note value that doesn't fit the actual duration... and it's hard to read.

The second instance just removes the bar line, avoids the note value/duration problem, and is actually readable, although I imagine it will get played incorrectly by a lot of people.

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  • I think I follow but I'm not totally clear... are you using the tied eighth notes as a stand-in for the triplet that you don't want to write out? If that's the case, I think it would be better to write out the triplet, to demonstrate what it would look like. If that's not what you meant, then I don't understand the answer.
    – Edward
    Nov 11, 2022 at 1:04
  • The triplet is written out in the second example, the one in 4/4 meter. In the 2/4 example, yes, the tied eighths show a full beat crossing the bar line. In the 4/4 example that same full beat duration become a triplet... _without any issue of splitting the triplet over a bar line. It isn't a question of not wanting to write out the triplet. The question is whether to write it out over a bar line if it can be avoided with a meter change. Nov 11, 2022 at 22:11
  • I'm basically saying the OP is probably misguided to force a triplet over a bar line. Read the comment in Lawrence's answer: it is "...rarely...best practice..." It is not recommended. My answer is just stepping through the notation process to show how the conundrum is avoided. Nov 11, 2022 at 22:17
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This is sort of a corollary of "can anything cross a barline?" and the answer differs for semi-modern notation (starting with late Baroque) and earlier music (Medieval through Renaissance to early Baroque). Those music forms don't have the usual strong beat relations of later music and their notation will not usually use ties for splitting notes across bar lines. Modern editions often put the bar lines only between systems, and the manuscripts may not even have contained them at all.

Here is an example from the Missa de Beata Virgine from Josquin des Prez: Missa de Beata Virgine

The soprano triplets clearly stretch over multiple measures (3 notes per 2 measures) and notating them with ties would really mess up the notation and character here.

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