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I came across a piece in my piano syllabus. It’s called ‘Terminal 2’ by Nathalie Béra-Tagrine. The piece is in 3/4 time signature. It starts with an anacrusis like below:

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However, the last bar still has 3 crotchet beats:

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AFAIK, since the anacrusis has 1 crotchet beat, the last bar should have 2 crotchet beats. Why does the piece have 3 crotchet beats in the last bar?

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5 Answers 5

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In the distant past there was a convention that the last measure should be shortened by the length of the anacrusis. Nowadays this 'rule' is largely ignored unless there is a repeat that goes back to the beginning (common in classic folk/dance forms or songs/hymns).

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    Just in case this answer ends up becoming an accepted internet truth that people refer to as a justification when claiming that something is right or wrong, let it be known that I still use the "rule" in songs that are meant to be repeated, and I have seen it being used in song books and hymnals published during this century. In the OP's example it looks like there is a fermata right at the end, so a new repetition of the whole song would need a restarting count-in. Maybe it's old-fashioned to consider the piece in question. For me it's ok to be old-fashioned. Dec 18, 2023 at 23:39
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    There are probably as many songs which turn round in time as there are those which pause at the end of each verse, to start again with their anacruces.
    – Tim
    Dec 19, 2023 at 9:03
  • In my experience, the shortening rule is still completely standard for pieces ending with a repeat — for the obvious reason, to make the closing (part-)bar match up correctly with the opening. For pieces without a repeat it’s no longer so common, but it’s not so rare as to be surprising; it’s more likely in shorter and more song-like pieces, and when the ending strain is similar to the opening.
    – PLL
    Dec 19, 2023 at 10:23
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    @piiperiReinstateMonica I've edited my answer to address your concerns. All of this has been covered multiple times here on answers to very similar but not quite duplicate questions.
    – PiedPiper
    Dec 19, 2023 at 10:38
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The core idea of the final measure plus anacrusis creating a full bar — leaving aside repeats — is to create balance in the music. One supposes that the listener will retain the opening anacrusis in such a way that a full measure at the end will feel as though there's an extra beat. This feeling is especially clear when each phrase opens with an anacrusis. That means that each phrase ends with an incomplete measure; thus, the final measure would be expected to end the same way.

In this piece, however, the situation is different. Even though the piece opens with an anacrusis, and the melodic phrases may well also begin with one, the left hand accompaniment overlaps the melodic phrasing. In the accompaniment, we always expect three beats per measure, so to have only two beats at the end would make for an abrupt ending. Of course, one could add an extra measure to the final chord, making it five beats long, but this would feel too long. Instead, the composer allows both the melodic and harmonic phrases to complete, requiring a full closing measure, and then adds the fermata to help dissipate the rhythmic momentum. This mitigates any rhythmic imbalance that might otherwise have occurred.

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    I don't think this is a useful answer because no one actually thinks this way. Even if that's the justification for the somewhat silly and widely ignored "rule," there's no need for all this to justify disobeying it. Dec 18, 2023 at 22:56
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    @the-baby-is-you "No one actually thinks this way": I do.
    – Aaron
    Dec 18, 2023 at 22:57
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    You're entitled to obey it, but most people don't, and the odds are the composer wasn't deeply analyzing reasons to go against it, they just didn't do it because it's not really a rule. Dec 18, 2023 at 23:00
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    @the-baby-is-you I never claimed it was a rule, I don't think you can speak for "most people", and you're vastly underestimating how much thought composers put into their music.
    – Aaron
    Dec 18, 2023 at 23:01
  • There's logic in what you say, but negated by the fact that the last chord is paused, wrecking any rhythmic pattern anyhow.
    – Tim
    Dec 19, 2023 at 8:39
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I think it's worth noting the origins of this "rule" - if a piece consistently uses anacruses in its rhythmic structure, then we might consider the final beat of each measure to consistently "belong to" its following measure. This would be true not just for the first measure, but fairly consistently through the piece.

In pieces where that is the case, such as music originating in a baroque or classical dance form or similar, it makes complete sense to omit the final beat in the final bar, because that would "imply" a continuation into the next bar. That's where the rule really comes from.

See the slow movement of Beethoven's 5th, which is rhythmically motivated in such a way: https://musescore.com/classicman/scores/4998836

However, if the piece "just happens to" have a pickup note before the first measure, but doesn't consistently reiterate this throughout, then no such implication is formed in the mind of the player or listener, and there's no reason to omit a beat at the end, though some people still might.

The notion of cutting the last measure short to "make up for" an extra note at the beginning of the piece, while sort of appealing to the mathematical-minded among us, isn't really what's going on in these situations IMO.

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Were there a repeat sign after the last bar, it would be essential to have only minims in that bar, but since the piece is there in its entirety, it really doesn't matter that it's a full bar. 'Rules' may dictate that the 1st and last bars add up, but where's the point here?

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Some pieces if music have a distinct beginning and a distinct end, but many others end in such a manner that would allow them to be looped back to the beginning if they were performed in a context that needed the music to keep going (e.g. if performers reached the end of a processional before everyone had reached their positions). A composer might not particularly intend that a piece be played through multiple times, but if multiple repetitions are required, it's useful to have the total length of the music be an integer number of bars (and typically a multiple of the length of each phrase).

If a piece of music is subdivided into different sections such that the ending wouldn't really flow back to the beginning, it may not make sense to try to deduct the length of the anacrusis from the length of the last measure. Likewise if the piece of music has a marked repeat from a first ending that contains a copy of the anacrusis to the start of the first full measure. The convention of having deducting the length of the anacrusis from last measure makes sense when it would be useful to loop from the end of a piece back to the beginning without explicit repetition or "DS al coda" markings.

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