In a score I'm preparing, I have many pairs of notes whose durations should be played in the ratios 2:1 or 1:2, with each pair having a total duration of a half note. The common way to notate this is using triplets, as shown in example #1 below. However, it looks a bit clumsy to me, and my (amateur) choristers don't know how to sing it until I explain it to them. Example #3 is easier to understand, but I've got a lot of these and I don't like how cluttered it looks. I'd like to notate it as shown in example #2, with something small to indicate that the dotted rhythm should be "softened" or "relaxed" so that it sounds more like example #1. The rhythm doesn't have to sound exactly like a tied triplet, but I really don't want the abruptness of a true dotted rhythm.

Is this a done thing? I've seen music with an indication at the beginning of the piece like Example #4 (which is actually a pair of examples), but that approach doesn't work for me in this case because I want most of these rhythms "relaxed", but not all.

dotted rhythms

Any suggestions will be most appreciated.

  • 2
    "Swing feel" and example 2 is common in pop styles and likely to be understood by your amateur performers. Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 19:46
  • Is this something you are notating for the exclusive use of ensemble(s) you'll be conducting?
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 20:29
  • Is the whole tune, or section swinged, or do does it keep mixing swinged and straight 8th notes. Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 22:38
  • @dissemin8or The first example is reversed from "swing feel" because the longer note comes after the shorter one. (Unless you have swing eighths with the second one tied to a quarter.)
    – Theodore
    Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 20:02

4 Answers 4


Sorry, but "I don't like the way it looks" isn't a reason to avoid an established convention and substitute something that means something else. Yes, there are pieces that are full of those bracketed triplets; see the first movement of Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole.

However, you say "The rhythm doesn't have to sound exactly like a tied triplet, but I really don't want the abruptness of a true dotted rhythm." That's another matter; if you want something that's "not quite A, but definitely not B," then we enter the realm of performative inexactness and things for which there is not established notational convention. The only real approach in these cases is to communicate verbally with the performers, probably in an introduction or footnote. A lot of ink is spilled, and rehearsal time spent, by early music performers defining "just how inegales these particular notes inegales are," or by jazzers in determining a certain groove or swing.

You have to ask yourself, if any performers ignore or overlook (or can't understand) your textual instructions, how would you rather have it misperformed. If you'd rather have true triplets than an eighth-plus-dotted-quarter combo, then notate it that way. If the true triplets are closer to your intent than the dotted notation, then use them.

Of the triplet examples, I would personally prefer #3 as clearer, but #1 is totally allowable.

  • What I see in the first movement of Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole are triplet crotchets (8ths), each triplet played in the time of 1 of the 2 beats of a 2/2 bar. The rhythm the OP wants is a triplet sung in the time of 2 of the 3 beats of a 3/4 bar. This is less usual and perhaps trickier to perform, because the triplet goes across 2 beats.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 9:12
  • @RosieF Interesting; when I look at the 1875 Durand score on IMSLP, the 2-beat triplets don't have brackets, just a little "3" floating above a group of crotchets (e.g. second measure). Most modern engravings use the brackets, though. And I probably should have referenced the third movement instead, where they're even more prevalent. Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 15:07
  • Ah, I was concerned only with the rhythm and the note values, but not with the brackets.
    – Rosie F
    Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 17:55

I do agree that Example #1 does not look very good, because it makes it harder to sightread the beat structure.

Thus I’d rather do something like using a quarter triplet and ties. I’ve appended this way, also the same using a 9/8 timesig.

Also there is nothing that speaks against creating your own notation as long as you explain it and it is clear to read. I’ve also appended a suggestion that uses an arrow to specifiy an elongation at the cost of the left or right neighbor.

enter image description here

  • 1
    IMO your top example is the best answer to this question because it is exactly equivalent to the original Example #1, but restricts the triplet notation to subdivisions of the bar. The reason Example #1 is hard to read is that we are used to counting triplets as repeating subdivisions of the beat but Example #1 doesn't allow us to do that.
    – Ian Goldby
    Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 9:31
  • 4
    +1 for the 9/8 suggestion, which would seem to me to be the best option. Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 12:51
  • 2
    9/8 would work well if there are more triplets than even quavers. You don't want to avoid triplet marks only to have to add even more duplets markings.
    – Ian Goldby
    Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 13:31
  • I also like the 9/8 option, though the "amateur choristers" might have just as much trouble reading it. I might myself have notated it in 9/8 with a [non-standard] quarter + half + dotted quarter.
    – Theodore
    Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 20:06
  • I also favour the 9/8 option, because it uses the same internal subdivision each performer will need to be doing in order to get the lengths of all the notes exactly correct, and thus play together.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Nov 12, 2022 at 7:20

Example 2 will not give the timing of triplets, so that's out of the running. 1 and 3 work well, just as well as each other, perhaps the edge going to 3 for amateurs. It will depend also whether it's just crotchets or if there are quavers there too. A legend at the top, stating 'swing' with the usual very last bit of ex.4, but without the tie, should be sufficient. And once the singers have the feel for it, they'll probably ignore it, and sing it like you want, anyway.


If you want strict 1:2 or 2:1 triplets in the space of a half note in 3/4 time, notating them with "3:2" instead of "3" should make things clearer:

From Dorico's https://steinberg.help/dorico/v2/en/dorico/topics/notation_reference/notation_reference_tuplets_numbers_ratios_c.html:

Ratio 8th-note triplet from Dorico's website

From Musescore's https://musescore.org/en/node/303432, uses 4:3 instead but the premise is similar:

Ratio 4:3 quarter-note quadruplet from Musescore question/answer

Made by me with Musescore:

Ratio 3:2 quarter-note triplets made with Musescore

  • 2
    I'm don't think this looks any less clumsy than Ex. #1. Commented Nov 10, 2022 at 20:44
  • @ElementsinSpace - At the very least, the ratio warns that the tuplet is unusual, so I find these tuplets with ratios more intuitive to read.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 4:18
  • Yeah, this notation does have a use. But I don't see how it solves OP's problem. Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 4:23
  • @ElementsinSpace - Note that the question asker says, regarding Example #1, "my (amateur) choristers don't know how to sing it until I explain it to them". The ratio notation should be more intuitive and require less explanation than Example #1 or perhaps even Example #3. It's tough for me to approve of Example #2 without it needing Example #4 or a longer explanation accompanying it.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 4:27
  • Even after reading this answer, I’d have to look these up if I came across them in a score. I guess 3:2 just means triplet? But then why not just a bracket with a 3 over it? Since I’ve seen the bracket or slur with a 3 at least a hundred times, I don’t even have to think to read it. 3:2 I’ve never seen and it would stop me dead. Commented Nov 11, 2022 at 5:14

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