At 3:08 Seconds into this video (Johnny Winter, Mama talk to your daughter, Live CPH 1971):

a hemiola cross-rhythm effect, and the guitar strums and bass temporarily mark out a skipple (aka. 'shuffle'/'triplet groove'/'swing') rhythm( enter image description here)

How could I notate this cross-rhythm so that it can be read intuitively by the performer?

  • Not familiar with this piece, but it feels like a hemiola to me? The underlying pulse seems the same.
    – Josiah
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 14:51
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    Doesn't seem to have changed tempo at all. The push makes it feel different, but the speed is the same - to me.
    – Tim
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 15:20
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    Generally this is notated the same way you would a triplet - but rather than -3- you use something like -4-. Most music notation programs have a "tuplet" creation tool. You can also notate it with dotted notes and ties, which is probably more common and legible in this case.
    – Josiah
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 0:14
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    I don't understand why there was a down vote for this question. This query is not an analysis of a particular piece, but rather using the music as an example concerning metric modulation. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 5:51
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    @DaleNewton Well I certainly hope that isn't true because that would be a downvote for the wrong reason. I had to listen to the clip about two dozen times to hear it as a hemiola - the inconsistent tempo immediately made me think 6/8 as well. Even though you were a little mistaken with what you heard, your questions was (and is) still very valid. I hope you found my answer helpful. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:56

4 Answers 4


You can't really talk about metric modulation without discussing Elliot Carter, a master metric modulator (say that three times fast!)

I agree that the passage discussed in the clip is a hemiola, but not for the discussed reasons. Much like a tonal modulation, metric modulations are only considered so if you stay where you're going. For example, if John Winter turned those half-note triplet hemiola into dotted quarter-note pulse, and stayed in 6/8 for the rest of the section, then yes, you could identify that as a metric modulation.

However, the question was not whether or not the clip contained a metric modulation, but how to notate one.

View this excerpt from an Elliot Carter piece:

enter image description here

Looking at the modulation from 7/8 to 2/4, you see very clear notation. Carter shows the unit beat subdivision equivalency and qualifies it with a tempo marking (bpm). To be absolutely clear, he also used arrows to indicate that the quarter tied to dotted-eighth only belongs to the 7/8 measure while the quarter note only belongs to the 2/4 measure. This method is the clearest way to notate metric modulations.

This method is also discussed in two of the most prominent books on music notation: Kurt Stone's Music Notation in the 20th Century as well as Elaine Gould's Behind Bars.

  • So in this case , even though the new rhythm lasts a good few measures it generally wouldn't be considered a modulation as it doesn't last for at least the remainder of the section? Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 14:00
  • @DaleNewton Yes, you're exactly right; I know it seems finicky, but think about it in terms of pitch. You couldn't justify a tonal modulation that only lasted 2-3 measures - you'd call it a tonicization. If the new "key" stayed for the whole verse, then yes, the modulation represents a dramatic shift in tonality. Metric modulation uses unit subdivision to pivot the very pulse of the music and remain there (much like composers use pivot chords to connect similar keys). Since the song only uses the effect for about 2 measures at most (at any given time), it's not a true modulation. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 14:06
  • Yes I sometimes see the threshold for a tonal modulation given as one complete melodic or 'structural' phrase. That seems the least arbitrary to me so I go with it. For a metric/tempo modulation rather than just a temporary change of meter a complete 'section' seems as good a criteria as any to me. Perhaps where a section begins and ends could itself sometimes be up for grabs though? – Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 23:17
  • From which piece is the excerpt? Commented Jun 1, 2021 at 16:25

If I'm understanding correctly, you want to tell people that the speed is reducing to to 0.75 of what it was, though in this piece, I feel more of a hemiola (cross rhythm) effect than an actual modulation.

The way to notate tempo modulations is to use either the beat or the largest division or subdivision of the beat that is as simple as possible.

In this case, I would say that you're changing a single triplet eighth note into a sixteenth note in the new tempo. There are 4 triplet eighths in the old time equal to one quarter note in the new time. Therefore, if you picture the triplet eighth as being equal to the sixteenth, you should be in the correct meter with the least "huh?" going on.

In any case with complex tempo modulation, I would suggest giving approximate markings for the initial run through and make your intention clearer. If you put a ♩ = c. 104 on the main part (tempo pulled out of the air, not related to the song), then you could put ♩ = c. 78 on the new tempo. Put this along with the exact modulation marking (duration = duration) to lower the bar to understanding.


Just adding to the other answers i would say one could feel this is not a metric modulation and even not and Hemiola. This is a lot subjective so i'm just adding how i listen to it because it's different than the previous answers (which are also valid and solid interpretations).

The idea that starts at 3:08 had already appeared in 2:51 as a kind of rhythmic break. So when this starts on 3:08 it might just sound like a prolonged and repetitive iteration of that same break. It kind of creates tension because it creates a expectation of a return not only to the previous metric but to the previously ongoing musical ideais.


How could I notate this cross-rhythm so that it can be read intuitively by the performer?

The rhythm being played is actually neither a hemiola nor a cross-rhythm. The entire band places heavy emphasis on the "ands" of beats two and four. This gives the impression of shifting the pulse, but the drummer keeps the basic (back-)beat throughout.

The rhythm would be notated this way (with repeat signs just to keep the example compact.)

K:perc stafflines=1
[V:V1 stem=up]B- [|: B2 z B-B2 z B-:|]

Had the drummer dropped the basic beat and then the band were to have established the offbeat pattern as the new primary beat, the meter would stay the same, but the overall effect would be as if they'd dropped half a beat somewhere.

  • 1
    V2, while technically correct, obfuscates the division of the division of the bar into two havres, and goes against standard notational practice. A sight-reader would have no problem with v1, but they'd probably stumble over v2.
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 10:02
  • @PiedPiper And 2.5 years later, I finally updated this. Thanks for the comment.
    – Aaron
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 4:57

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