# Changing time signature mid bar

I have a puzzle about the notation of this score, specifically the bar divided by the dotted line in the second system:

My intention is that the first half of the bar should have the stresses of 6/8, and the second half the stresses of 3/4. However, I've been warned by a choral conductor that the "3/4" after the dotted line might lead singers to expect a full bar of 3/4. So what other options are there? Everything else I've considered would either get the stresses wrong or destroy the symmetry between the two halves of the tune.

EDITS

Here's a recording (from an audience member's phone, I'm afraid):

Linden Tree Carol v1

For comparison, here's an option that retains the 3/4 time signature and uses 3/4 beaming:

• I find it perfectly clear, but had the advantage of reading the question before seeing the score. I suggest just adding a brief instruction at the beginning of the score (or as a footnote at the end). Nov 28, 2022 at 17:01
• As I read through it, I'd be inclined to just have the single bar of 6/8; the third eighth note of the next bar can be the "beat two" of a full 3/4 bar. If you keep the slurring as it is—slur F-D-E, then no slur to F—then it will encourage people to de-emphasize the E. At that point, the 6/8 bar is just hemiola. Nov 28, 2022 at 18:30
• Would you then return to 3/4 for the last bar of the verse (just for consistency)? Nov 28, 2022 at 18:33
• Why not just make the split measure all 3/4? The slur and tie will prevent improper accent on the third 1/8 note. Nov 28, 2022 at 18:55
• I agree with Andy Bonner. That's exactly what I was thinking. No need to change the last bar to 3/4. It's not going to add any helpful information to the performers. Nov 28, 2022 at 19:06

I would suggest keeping it in 3/4 throughout — even in your first 6/8 bar, the tenor is in 3/4. And your "split" bar is the same rhythm as the first full bar.

Adjust the beaming to make it look like 6/8: your later suggestion doesn't make that sufficiently clear in my opinion. And if it merited it, then you could use brackets over the score to group the syncopated bars into 6/8, as well — but you don't need the third one you've suggested because the motif is exactly like the pickup bar at the start.

A conductor will conduct those bars as 6/8 without a change in time signature in the score, because the piece does what it does. You can't sing or play those bars any other way.

A comment here mentions a dual "3/4 (6/8)" time signature. I wouldn't use brackets in the time signature: that's just noise. Nor do I interpret it as indicating strict alternation in each bar: it's an indication that both appear often enough to merit a mention at the start. Where two bars in eight for each verse are 6/8, that could warrant it; and it would mean that you wouldn't need to mess around in the score: the 6/8 bars could simply be 6/8. I do think that the brackets on those bars would help (as well as the beaming), and in that case I think I would keep the tenor in crotchets — as in my example here — to indicate the hemiola.

[It may be worth pointing out here that I sing, and have had to deal with all sorts of engraving styles. My view is that the score is there to help performers perform a piece the way the composer intended, but it should also assume a bit of musical common sense on the part of the choir/conductor. Put in as much as is necessary to get your point across. Leave out what can be left out because it clutters the score. This answer reflects that philosophy.]

• Thanks. A bit later I'm going to edit my original post to show two or three possibilities for retaining 3/4, and I'm hoping to receive some comments on those. In the meantime, can you please elaborate on "brackets over the score"? Nov 29, 2022 at 10:27
• Surely the whole point in the difference between 3/4 and 6/8 is the splitting of the bar.
– Tim
Nov 29, 2022 at 10:54
• @Tim it seems to me that the point is to manage the (supposed?) metrical shift to establish a metrical stress on the first syllable of "laden" in the melody but then to return to the established rhythm and meter so we stress "angels" rather than "all." The fact that this appears to happen in the middle of the bar seems like an unfortunate side effect rather than a goal. Nov 29, 2022 at 11:12
• @Remster Illustration of brackets added. I've kept the tenor as crotchets here, but it may be clearer beamed as a 6/8 bar. In open score I think I would leave the tenor as crotchets. Nov 29, 2022 at 12:57
• Thanks, that's clear. Would you definitely stick with the 6/8 beaming, though? I can see that being criticised in a 3/4 bar. Later today I plan to add the 3/4 alternative to my original post (with the bracketing you've suggested). Nov 29, 2022 at 13:28

I'd say the bigger priority is getting the stresses right, so try taking a page from the book of people composing syncopated music and put accents on the notes you want stressed - heck, perhaps even over all of the piece and not bother with time signature changes at all.

While some other composers of syncopated music have used irregular beaming groups before (e.g. one 4/4 measure of 3 8th notes beamed together + 2 8th notes + 3 8th notes), you want a split between a strong-weak-weak and a weak-strong-weak in the offending measure, so I don't think irregular beaming will fix your issue.

I think symmetry's going to be broken no matter what.

• What would be the appropriate accent, do you think? Nov 28, 2022 at 16:59
• @Remster - Example accents: offending measure - "den" and "an-", 1st pickup measure - "stood", 1st full measure - "heav'n" and "lin-", first 6/8 measure of yours - "ho-" and "la-" (possibly use 3/4 time throughout and never use 6/8 if you opt for accents) Nov 28, 2022 at 19:05
• Thanks, but I was actually asking what mark you'd used. ">" seems a bit heavy to me, but I can't think of any other options. Nov 28, 2022 at 20:47
• @Remster - Yeah, the typical ">" mark seems heavy at times (especially in playback for the latest version of Musescore), but I think we have no choice. Nov 29, 2022 at 16:10

It looks, to me, like it's all written so it could be all in 6/8. The way the notes are written, in two lots of 3 quavers, says exactly that. There's no indication anywhere that says 3/4.

If you want some kind of guidance, look towards 'America', where the feel does actually move between 3/4 and 6/8, to get a gist of how it should be written to achieve what I think you're looking for.

• You might want to clarify which song called "America" you mean. I'm thinking you mean the one from West Side Story, but it might not be apparent to all readers. Nov 28, 2022 at 16:29
• @Theodore - that's the most well-known 'America' - any others seem to be in 4/4, which wouldn't be applicable at all. And, yes, that's the one I mean.
– Tim
Nov 28, 2022 at 16:39
• Thanks, I know which 'America' you mean. The difference there is that there's strict alternation between 6/8 and 3/4, so having both time signatures at the start (which is what I think Bernstein has) is easy to understand. If I had that, I'd be relying on singers to pay attention to the note groupings to work out what was what. Nov 28, 2022 at 16:55
• Still think you're on the wrong track. An anacrucis in 6/8 of exactly half a bar will work absolutely fine, it's the second half of the bar, both times, so comes in on a semi-strong beat - which in 3/4 wouldn't work well anyway. Which is how I would have conducted it regardless. Did you watch how it was conducted? Wouldn't surprise me if the conductor did as I would have, to keep it better in tempo.
– Tim
Nov 28, 2022 at 17:04
• Hmm, I'm expecting "stood" and "an-" to be stronger than "There" and "All". That said, I'll have a word with the conductor. I'm ashamed to say that although I was singing, I didn't notice what he did. It was only afterwards that the critic gave me his thoughts. Nov 28, 2022 at 21:06

Although its clear, after a little thought, what you want here I don't think that is the way to notate it.

That bar where you change time: where is the second beat?

And it would be a swine to conduct.

Why not have that as a 6/8 bar and indicate the stresses with accents? Conveys the same information and does not give the conductor, or the choir, any issues.

• Funnily enough, when it's been performed (twice), it hasn't caused any problems that I've been aware of. The accents idea could do it, although the perfectionist in me doesn't like the asymmetry between the start of the first line (3/4) and the start of the second (6/8). Nov 28, 2022 at 16:58
• @Remster do you have a recording? I'm curious whether the penultimate bar was actually sung in 6/8. I suspect that many singers would render it in 3/4, that is, with a secondary accent on soprano F. Nov 29, 2022 at 11:16

Having just listened to your recording, I am inclined to suggest using 6/8 throughout, because that's what the recording sounds like.

That is, I don't hear any syncopation on "laden," and while the chorus is very good and does take into account the text stress on the second eighth of the three-eighth-note pattern, there is nonetheless a metrical weight and lengthening of the first. If this is acceptable or desirable then perhaps you should put the whole thing in 6/8.

It reminds me a bit of "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly," which (in 3/4) has a pattern of two eighths followed by two quarters, with the eighths on the downbeat. The text stresses, however, always come on the second beat, with the result that the notation is arguably incorrect. (I have always assumed that the metrical alignment of the melody is correct for the original Polish words.)

I agree with your hesitation to use accents. Many conductors if not most will read them as asking for a sharp emphasis rather than as signifying a shift in the meter.

If I were you I would keep it in 3/4 and not do anything else unless you really want a sharp accent in the middle of the bar. Here's why:

1. The soprano won't put metrical stress on beat 4.2 because it's an eighth note on an unstressed syllable. They can't put it on 4.3 or 5.2 because they don't have notes there. You don't need additional markings to tell them that there's a musical stress on the first syllable of "laden" because the text underlay tells them.

2. The alto is syncopated in the second half of 4 and the first half of 5 no matter what meter you use. Also see point 5 below.

3. The tenor is in 3/4 throughout.

4. The bass has the same situation as the soprano in measure 4 and as the alto in measure 5, which brings us to the next point.

5. What does it mean for the first half of 5 to be in 6/8? How does one avoid a secondary stress on the third eighth note of the bar when there is a stress two eighths later and one at the beginning of the bar, two eighths earlier? I would call it impossible, but even if it isn't it's more trouble than it's worth. Better to accept that there's a secondary stress there, which will be minimal because there's no syllable but present nonetheless. If you recognize that secondary stress then the bar is in 3/4.

The previous bar could be in 6/8 or 3/4. It's probably going to sound to the audience like the melody is syncopated one way or the other. If that really bothers you, then keep it in 6/8 and you might be able to overcome it. But it will be much easier for the conductor and the singers if you keep it in 3/4 and let the textual meter interact with the musical meter to create the subtle syncopation that I suppose is your intention.

• I've edited my question to include a link to a recording. I'll respond to your answer above once I've digested it. Nov 29, 2022 at 14:25
• I've digested your answer now, and I agree with all your points. I'm close to proposing an answer that combines various suggestions I've received here, but first I want to check something with you. If you were to keep bar 4 in 6/8 but return to 3/4 at the start of bar 5, would you do the same for bars 8 and 9 ("one fair maiden")? Nov 29, 2022 at 22:06
• @Remster you know, I hadn't noticed bars 8 and 9 when I wrote the answer. I considered revising the answer after I noticed them but decided not to. It's a bit of a tricky question, but I'd probably go with being consistent. However, I just listened to the recording, and it sounds very much like 6/8 throughout. I'll edit the answer to add some more thoughts. Nov 30, 2022 at 8:33
• It's interesting what you say about the recording. It was definitely conducted in 3/4 and then 6/8 (which was also my intention). The only thing I'm unsure about is how bar 5 was handled. The recording is from a decade ago, so I can't really find out. The conductor from the more recent performance was beating quavers throughout. Nov 30, 2022 at 10:11
• For information, I'm warming to the idea, which is an amalgamation of the suggestions I've received here, of giving the time signature as "3/4 (6/8)" and letting the beams and phrase marks indicate which is intended. Nov 30, 2022 at 10:16

The solution I've settled on combines at least two of those suggested by others, which is why I'm answering my own question. Please let me know if anything is unclear in this version.

EDIT

As discussed in the comments below, an option that might be kinder to the tenors would retain the tied notes in the first 6/8 bar:

• This looks good, but I would have kept the two tied eighth notes on the 'C in the tenor in bar 4 to make the middle of the implied 6/8 more explicit.. Dec 7, 2022 at 21:50
• Funny you should say that. In the version I've published on the MuseScore website, I've reverted to the tied notes. As a tenor myself, I decided I'd lose track of the beat otherwise. Dec 7, 2022 at 23:41

Yes, at first glance the 3/4 time signature might lead singers to expect a full bar. Just like it might if there was an anacrusis at the beginning of the piece. But the fact that there ISN'T a full bar will very soon be apparent. I wouldn't worry about that aspect of it.

The change from 3+3 grouping to 2+2+2 is actually pretty well shown in the beaming. But I don't mind the explicit key signatures. Quite like them, actually!

It won't be difficult to conduct. Particularly as choral conductors tend to mould phrases rather than 'beat time'. They'll do the same things with their hands whichever way the groupings are notated.