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In The Beatles song “Ticket To Ride” the verses use a compound meter of 2/4 + ¼ note triplet. If put in a time signature would it look like this?

2   3
— + —
4   3

Is there a way to notate a triplet meter in a time signature?

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  • "Ticket to Ride" is a straight 4/4.
    – Aaron
    Dec 2, 2023 at 21:29
  • Apart from the statement that "Ticket to Ride" uses a compound meter, I think this is a good question. I would suggest the edit "In The Beatles song “Ticket To Ride”, it sounds as if the verses could be written with a compound meter of 2/4 + some ¼ note triplets. ..."
    – Edward
    Dec 2, 2023 at 22:18
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    The second half of the first two measures are almost triplets. After that it becomes more of a sloppily played eighth-quarter-eighth syncopated rhythm (or even dotted eighth-dotted eighth-eighth) . 4/4 is the only sane way to notate it.
    – PiedPiper
    Dec 2, 2023 at 22:42

8 Answers 8

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I have always percieved this particular song to be in 4/4, and to me this is indicated clearly by the tambourine that plays loudly on the 2nd and 4th beat of every bar. It would not make sense to me with a compound signature, because every "triplet"-bar would have an off-beat tambourine doesn't really fit in the meter (except the first two bars where the guitar is alone).

In the start of the song, the band do indeed more or less sloppily play the triplet throughout the verse, which I would notate like this:

Ticket to ride main triplet figure

But after 2'14" they seem to have given up on the triplets altogether, and play it very straight like this in the last verse:

Ticket to ride main figure, last verse

  • which to me indicates that the intention for the song is clearly 4/4.

In both excerpts I have indicated the tambourine with the cross notehead.

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'Ticket' never really comes out of 4/4. In the bit we're talking about Ringo plays one of his characteristic 'loose' rhythms. 'Swing meets rock' perhaps. One of the many times where you just have to listen to Ringo and copy! But it's a syncopation in 4/4, there's no advantage in changing the time signature.

This is worth a look: Ringo Starr Shows How to play Ticket to Ride

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The problem is that the two meters don't share a common pulse or division of the pulse. This means that there's no note-type that remains constant across the two meters.

In addition to the time signatures, a metric modulation would be required. For example, one could choose

(half note) = (dotted half note)

2   3
- + -
4   4

In fact, no matter which two time signatures one chooses, the metric modulation will be (equivalent to) half note = dotted half note.

In this case, it's easier for the musicians to read if the score is just written in 4/4 with quarter-note triplets as needed.

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  • +1 for the metric modulation notation, but I think you will see that my answer gives 2 time signatures that do not require metric modulation.
    – Edward
    Dec 2, 2023 at 22:11
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    Also, having a metric modulation in every bar is not normal practice, at least in most pop/rock music.
    – hlynbech
    Dec 2, 2023 at 22:44
  • @Edward That's true, but relatively few musicians are familiar with X/6 and what it means. In the end, it's just a different way of notating metric modulations.
    – Aaron
    Dec 3, 2023 at 0:02
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I would split the question and its answer in four parts.

This is not a compound, nor a mixed meter

A compound meter divides each one of its beats in three equal parts.

A mixed meter mixes simple (two parts per beat) and compound meters that share the same beat subdivisions: beat units and their subdivisions are always consistent. Quavers in a 5/8 meter (for instance) are always the same, no matter if they belong to the "compound" or the "simple" part of the bar.

What can eventually be said is that, as long as the beat subdivision is consistent, this can be considered as an "extended" (unconventional) meter that may eventually be written as:

2   3
— + —
4   6

It's important to note the second fraction, 3/6 opposed to your 3/3, which is based on the convention that a bar is a "full": if 2/4 is half of a bar, then the other half must be a half too.

When should we specify such meters (or if)

The above "extended" meter would only be possible as long as the rhythms in each bar of the piece are always consistent with it. And, even assuming they are, it would be extremely confusing to the reader.

Let's assume that the song rhythm only uses the "beats" ("quavers"):

X: 1
K: none
M: none
L: 1/4
BBBBB |

This would be already confusing: you have five notes, visually identical, even if they refer to different durations.

Let's make it even worse, using quavers:

X: 2
K: none
M: none
L: 1/8
BB BB BB BB BB |

Do you realize how confusing that may be?

Even assuming you added a dashed/dotted lines to clarify the simple/compound meters, it would be extremely annoying to read it. No player will love you.

Consistent and repeated indications

Common notation allows the omission of tuplets (or groupings in general).

A common example is Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, which is in 4/4 but has an homorhythmic part using repeated tuplets: some editions indicate the number 3 just in the first bar, some other omit it at all.

But this is only acceptable as soon as the rhythm is obvious or, at least, becomes established.

This is clearly not your case. Even if the rhythm was consistent, the following would still be very confusing:

X: 3
K: none
M: none
L: 1/8
B2 BB (3B2 B2 B2 | B2 BB B2 B2 B2 |

So, no, this is not acceptable. Just keep repeating the tuplet signs: it may be annoying for writing, it may result in a bit overcrowd part, but it will always be clear and unmistakable for the reader, which is the most important aspect of music reading.

But, is it really a tuplet?

No. What you hear in "Ticket to Ride" is almost never consistent, and is the result of a "loose tempo".

The "general idea" may be a triplet on the second half of the bar, but it often changes.

Sometimes it's a real triplet, sometimes it's a double dotted quaver plus a further quaver, other times it's a quaver/crotchet/quaver, other again it's something in between.

The tambourine is a bit more consistent (the standard 2nd and 4th beat), but even that isn't always precise.

Most importantly, that rhythm subdivision can be "clearly" heard (not that much, though) only during the first two bars of the main riff, and only for a few times in the first half of the song.

For almost all the song, the guitar parts are usually played as continuous quavers: even ignoring what we can hear, we can clearly see a constant movements of the right hands of Lennon and Harrison.

So, don't complicate your life (and those reading your parts). Just write a standard 4/4, eventually use proper tuplet notation whenever explicitly required for the guitar/voice parts, and don't care too much about the drum part... ;-)

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  • [I have issues with ABC again... Sorry about that, but I'm really to tired right now to fix this trying to test editings. If anybody is able to check that, feel free to do it]. Dec 3, 2023 at 3:53
  • Anyone else having issues with ABC- shift+F5 will refresh the page and show notation correctly in most browsers.
    – Edward
    Dec 3, 2023 at 4:49
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    @Edward Thanks, but, as pointed out in other related issues, this problem is often not related to caching. I did try what I could (checking it more than once, including cleared cache and incognito mode). It seems that in this specific case it was caused by a "malformed" syntax (but still valid in external ABC.js test editors), that Elements kindly fixed, but I've read about similar issues here and there. Dec 3, 2023 at 5:44
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I would argue that an alternating time signature notation is not a good representation of this song, since the kick and tambourine establish a straight 4/4 groove. That said, if you had a similar song where the beat truly alternated between a bar of 2 and 3, and the bar of 3 was a "quarter note triplet" in the bar of 2's tempo, you could write:

2   3
- + -
4   6

This indicates alternating bars of 2 beats and 3 beats, with the beat in the 3-beat bar being given to the quarter note triplet (mathematically, "6th notes", as each is 1/6 of a whole note). This is less readable than straight 4/4; it is probably better to use 4/4 and write a quarter note triplet every bar. In the alternating time signature scheme, you still have to write out that triplet anyway.

If you wanted to avoid writing triplets, you would have to use the metric modulation notation given by @Aaron, which doesn't really simplify anything.

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  • Downvoter- care to share why?
    – Edward
    Dec 3, 2023 at 19:17
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“Ticket To Ride” has no tuplet on the second half of the bars of the verse section. Beats 3&4 are eighth-quarter-eighth albeit played loosely. If you listen to both the guitar and the drums closely you will hear that those three notes do not have the same durations. There is a longer space between the second and third notes.

Regarding your question without regard to “Ticket To Ride”, the answer is technically perhaps yes but it will be confusing and it would be better divide it into two bars and alter time signatures and tempos every bar. No one wants to see a 3 or 6 denominator in a time signature, trust me. Using 120bpm as a reference that would mean alternating bars, a bar of 2/4 at 120bpm and a bar of 3/4 at about 179bpm. It is much better to use triplets in 4/4 time, that’s what they are for.

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Yes, you could do that. But what advantage does that give you apart from being harder to count? Compare these two versions and consider which one requires more thought to make sense of:

enter image description here

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2/4 plus a quarter note triplet could be written thus:

2   1
- + -
4   6

(a 3rd note would actually be a half note triplet, and 3/3 would be equal to a whole note.)

That being said, while time signatures like this do occasionally occur (there's some in Boulez' Le Marteau sans maître, and they're quite commonplace in the music of Thomas Adès), there are usually simpler ways to write this.

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  • 1
    You must have meant 2/4 + 3/6, right? As mentioned in another answer by @Edward
    – hlynbech
    Dec 2, 2023 at 22:37

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