I am trying to transcribe a little song and I am facing a problem: I am realising that there are several ways to write it, 2 ways to be more specific; Here are 2 images (I just wrote the first few measures of the song):

A melody transcribed mainly with quarter notes, with the tempo set to 116 BPM.  And then the same melody transcribed mainly with eighth notes, with the tempo set to 58 BPM

Which one is the right one? If I get rid of the metronome, and just listen to each sheet, they sound absolutely the same... How can I know and decide which way to go among these 2 possibilities? I have no idea what I should do, and have the same problem every time I am writing a song.

Another example, I have the same problem with "Ode to Joy": should I use the first notation, or the second one? (the last one would make the sheet music very long, so I guess it wouldn't be the right choice)

Three transcriptions of "Ode to Joy", the first mainly with quarter notes at 100 BPM, the second with eighth notes at 200 BPM, and a third with half notes at 200 BPM

I'm very confused, if somebody could help me with this I would be very grateful.

PS: For the first song, I chose the first version (with the quarter notes), but when searching on the internet for the song, I realised that it was written the second way (with the eight notes)...


4 Answers 4


The problem, which only you can solve, is where the accents come. In a bar of 4/4, the 1st beat is the main emphasis, while beat 3 is emphasised, but not quite as much.

So, with Ode to Joy, the first is more fitting, as the 1st and 5th notes are more emphasised, thus giving 4/4 a better fit. The 2nd version would make the fifth note not stand out as much as it actually does (or should).

With your song, though, only you know which notes are emphasised, so only you can decide which is more appropriate. The difference between the 1st and 3rd beats in a bar are often fairly indistinct, but you should be able to decide, by careful listening.

  • 1
    FWIW, Ode to Joy is written in cut time (i.e., 2/2).
    – Aaron
    Aug 24, 2023 at 22:12
  • @Aaron - interesting, sure you're correct, but I have only found 4/4 sheet music. Never played from the original score, though!
    – Tim
    Aug 25, 2023 at 6:50
  • Most arrangements are simplified, since the melody is recognizable and easily playable for many beginners. Liszt's arrangement — definitely not for beginners — is in cut time.
    – Aaron
    Aug 25, 2023 at 6:57
  • @Aaron - what about the original?
    – Tim
    Aug 25, 2023 at 7:33
  • That was what my first comment was about: Beethoven's original is in cut time.
    – Aaron
    Aug 25, 2023 at 7:57

Well... You should feel the rhythm as having stronger and weaker pulses - like stressed and unstressed syllables. Strong pulse comes at the start of a bar (a first syllable in a word) weak ones are the other beats.

When the song has a back beat, the "strong pulse" for dividing purposes is not the beat that actually gets the stress, but you can usually tell when the "word" doesn't start on the stressed "syllable".

And then you can have notes (generally those shorter than a beat) that don't get even the baseline pulse - they're weaker than that.

It gets even more complicated with compound rhythms because then you have not two but three levels - strong pulse (starts a bar), semi-strong pulse (starts a group) and weak pulse (baseline beat). And the difference between strong and semi-strong can be hard to tell.

Ode to Joy is definitely the first one you list, no two ways about it ("Freude, schöner Götterfunken"). But in the recent question about Norwegian Wood you can see answerers arguing for both 12/8 and 6/8 ("I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me" vs. "I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me").

  • 1
    Plus 1 for linking to the Norwegian Wood example: an artifact that has no official "original [notated] version," and at least three differences in perception between what's a bar and what's a phrase. Aug 24, 2023 at 16:49
  • Thank you very much for the time you took to answer: well, as I said to Andy, it seems that I have this problem with any song. With Loch lomond, same problem, I hear more strong pulses that there are.. By YON bonnie BANKS and by YON, instead of By YON bonnie banks and by YON. Going to focus on the ressources you shared, Thanks for the help
    – user94317
    Aug 24, 2023 at 21:34
  • One technical quibble. The Norwegian Wood example is an issue of barlines, but the OP question is about change rhythm values. Similar but not the same. Aug 25, 2023 at 21:43

enter image description here

Are those circled tones chord tones are non-chord tones.

In quarter notes the one the beat rhythm sort of suggests those tones are chord tones.

In eighth notes the unaccented, off beat rhythm of those very same pitches suggests they may be non-chord tones. This implication seems a bit stronger than the quarter note implication.

The general concept at play is a tendency to put chords on strong beats and to place dissonances in unaccented positions. That isn't a rule, just a tendency.

Another way to think of this is how might you improvise an accompaniment to this tune given either notation? I think the second notation in eighth notes would tend toward treating the circled notes as non-chord tones playing accompaniment chords in quarter note durations, whereas the notation in quarter notes might be realized in block chord, "choral style" with some kind of chord change per beat. That would be both accompaniments playing chords in quarter notes, but the chord tone/non-chord tone aspect of the two notation choices changes.

  • I bet your dv-er didn't even understand the implications of your answer.
    – Tim
    Aug 27, 2023 at 7:32

In addition to the other excellent answers, also consider the metronome markings. Most metronome go from around 40 to 200 or so. Near or beyond these extremes it becomes very difficult to maintain a steady beat. You could write your last Ode To Joy with eighth note equals 400, but that would be ridiculous. Likewise 200 is pretty darn fast for a pulse when the melody moves at a moderate pace.

Do consider the accents as others have said, but know that keeping your metronome pulse between say 60 and 120 as a general rule is a good idea. We tend to associate numbers above 120 as fast, and below 60 as very slow.

  • Thank you for the metronome pulse tip, I wasn't aware of this !
    – user94317
    Aug 25, 2023 at 16:30

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