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I count the beats as 1 o let, 2 o let, 3 o let, instead of 123456789. For the duplets, I count them as 1 o and let, with a very fast 'and'. I am now on the un poco mosso section and don't know the best way to count the sixteenth triplet notes. I usually count this rhythm as bid-a-lee did-a-lee. Any suggestions?

Un poco mosso bass

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  • What's the problem with what you're currently doing?
    – Aaron
    Jan 10, 2023 at 19:17

3 Answers 3

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The thing about groups of six is that they could be thought of as "3 + 3" or as "2 + 2 + 2." In this case, since we're in a compound meter, it's mainly (or "officially") "2 + 2 + 2." That is, the dotted-quarter beat is divided into three eighth notes, and we've now divided each of those in half.

You can use whatever syllabic mnemonic you want to vocalize this, but perhaps something in three groups of two, like "Dee-dle ee-dle ee-dle", instead of "bid-a-lee did-a-lee", which sounds like two groups of three.

That said, as long as you know what you're doing, you can intentionally subvert the subdivision by bringing out the 4th note of each group every now and then if you want to, creating a sense of two groups of three, and Debussy would probably appreciate it. But that's not about understanding the rhythm, it's about articulation and phrasing.

(Also, as Lazy said, at performance speed there's no way you can say any of this out loud. These vocalizations would just be for your aid in understanding the rhythm, at much slower speeds.)

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  • They should be played 3+3 in this piece to create a sense of floating.
    – Aaron
    Jan 10, 2023 at 18:54
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The sextuplets should be counted 3+3 in this piece. At a slow (i.e., practice) speed, I might could them as 6 sixteenth-note triplets (1 o let, 2 o let, etc...).

Debussy (see @Lazy's answer) performs them very rapidly and without accent — "true" sextuplets, so to speak (IMO, "the right way"). But most performers interpret them as double-triplets. As a sampling:

Debussy is going for one of two effects here.

  1. As Debussy plays it, the melody sounds like three primary beats subdivided into triplets with a glissando-like accompaniment. That is to say, the accompaniment itself isn't subdivided into pulses. The gestures feel quite sweeping in this way, with a great deal of motion.
  2. As it is more often played, the melody is played as though each beat is subdivided into triplets, and the accompaniment is played as though the half-beat is subdivided into triplets. The hemiola effect gives the music its floating, dreamy quality.
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  • I find Debussy’s own playing quite revealing. It shows us that what he goes for in Clair De Lune is far less floaty, dreamy and romanticized than what people take it to be. We see this from Debussy’s own version taking 1-1.5 minutes less than the versions you linked. But I find that all of these do this middle section similar to Debussy in that regard, just slower (keeping the hand brake on).
    – Lazy
    Jan 11, 2023 at 5:57
  • @Lazy - I listened to that recording, and it gave me the distinct impression that perhaps Debussy was as poor an interpreter of his own piano works as George Gershwin was of his (e.g. Gershwin's Rialto Ripples thankfully had its accompaniment edited in its non-piano-roll version - Gershwin's own piano roll accompaniment is kinda a mess).
    – Dekkadeci
    Jan 11, 2023 at 6:46
  • @Dekkadeci I do not know these, so I cannot comment on it. It is of course an old debate if a composer is good at performing his own pieces. There has been a blind test with I think Stravinsky recordings where the jury voted the recordings conducted by Stravinsky to fit the composers intentions the least. But Debussy was a remarkable pianist of his time, and his piano rolls do not sound bad, but he plays very differently to what we’re used to.
    – Lazy
    Jan 11, 2023 at 7:55
  • @Dekkadeci We think of Debussy as romantic, dreamy, slight rubato, lots of pedal. But if you listen to Debussy (or even just look at the actual scores) you see that what Debussy had in mind was often quite articulate, expressive, with heavily inegal tempo, even speeding up or slowing down sections as he goes along, with very sophisticated use of pedal (Debussy experimented a lot with half pedaling and such). Personally I need to say I really enjoy Debussy’s own interpretation of his works. It is not what we’re used to, but it makes sense, and it’s great.
    – Lazy
    Jan 11, 2023 at 7:58
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I think this stuff is bit to fast to count out. This more or less turns into a prolonged wall of sound, with not accents except for the bass notes. The sixteenths should run smooth and equally. Checkout Debussy’s own playing for reference:

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