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It's been a very long time since I've done musical theory but I know this rhythm is quite common, especially in dance and even some punk/metal.

So, some songs have 4 beats to a bar but it has 2 triplets and 1 double.

In total, it consists of 8 notes however there are 3 accented notes. Like this:

1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2

It's not 4/4 (although you can count 4 beats) and it's not 6/8. (2 triplets to a bar).

Is it 8/8? What's the time signature?

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    I edited the question a bit, because asking for a song's time signature is off topic here. I tried to make it a bit generic, so it won't get closed Nov 24, 2015 at 10:55
  • 2
    Sounds like a slow 4/4 to me. Accents can be put into any bar, regardless of time sig.
    – Tim
    Nov 24, 2015 at 11:03

10 Answers 10

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1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2 is Calypso rhythm.

Although it appears it often has a 4/4 or 8/8 time signature, I have seen it 3+3+2/8. Even with a more regular time signature, you may find it notated with two dotted-crotchets (which shouldn't cross over the secondary beat on to the third crotchet) and a dotted bar-line before the fourth crotchet.

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    Do we have some sort of MathJax gizmo for time signatures? Nov 24, 2015 at 13:39
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    Andrew - hopefully with graduation we'll get some tools. See: meta.music.stackexchange.com/q/913/104
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Nov 24, 2015 at 13:45
  • The rhythm given on that page is slightly more complicated. A very simple 3-3-2 is common in pop music (e.g. the bridge to Cascada, Every Time We Touch). I don’t know what it’s called though.
    – Owen
    Jan 26, 2020 at 6:09
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Yes, that would be 8/8. Mathematically it is the same with 4/4, but it differs on the accented beats. Where 4/4 would be:

1 2 3 4

8/8 is:

1 2 3, 1 2 3, 1 2

like the one in the song you provided.

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    Well, that's one way to play 8/8. In Largo music all odd beats are weighted. There's more than one late 19th-early 20th cent. composer who would write your 123,123,12 as alternating 6/8-2/8 bars. Nov 24, 2015 at 12:19
  • @CarlWitthoft: I’d be quite surprised to see this written as 6/8 + 2/8; do you have examples in mind that do that? If it were split as a repeating pattern of multiple measures, I’d rather expect it to be split as three measures, 3/8 + 3/8 + 2/8, so that each measure is a single metrical unit. But I don’t remember ever coming across that either.
    – PLL
    Nov 24, 2015 at 15:59
  • Dunno if I've seen that exact split, but there's plenty of cases where 5/4 or 1/4 measures are thrown in between 4/4 measures. I've seen sheet music where the initial staff marking is something like 6/8 -- 9/8 to indicate alternating measures. Nov 24, 2015 at 16:10
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    8/8 CAN be 1-2-3, 2-2-3, 3-2, but it can also be 1-2-3, 2-2, 3-2-3, and 1-2, 2-2-3, 3-2-3, etc. Nov 24, 2015 at 16:25
  • @cwallenpoole indeed, and it can also be 1-2, 2-2, 3-2, 4-2. The problem here is that traditional time signatures don't have a way of specifying irregular subdivisions (beyond a few exceptions that have arisen by convention such as 6/8 vs 3/4). In the later 20th century this began to be remedied by some with more explicit notations such as (3+3+2)/8.
    – phoog
    Oct 25, 2022 at 11:25
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It's a very common pattern, and it can (and probably should) definitely be notated in 4/4. It is the first half (the "three-side") of the traditional clave pattern.

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  • I don't follow. Your link clearly shows dotted-eighth -- sixteenth, not triplet, rhythm. Nov 24, 2015 at 12:20
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    @CarlWitthoft: Why should it be a triplet rhythm?
    – Matt L.
    Nov 24, 2015 at 12:22
  • The OP posted two groups of three followed by a pair. While the clave starts with three notes, they clearly are not evenly spaced in rhythm. Nov 24, 2015 at 13:18
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    @CarlWitthoft: The first half of the clave rhythm is evenly spaced: first note on the one, second note on the 4th 16th, third note on the 7th 16th. It's exactly 3+3+2 (the unit is 16th, and they're distributed over 2 quarter notes). It has absolutely nothing to do with triplets, it's a pure 16th rhythm with accents; or - if you like - notate it with 8th notes, but in any case no triplets.
    – Matt L.
    Nov 24, 2015 at 13:44
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It's called a tresillo. As others have mentioned, it's the first half of many other rhythms, but the tresillo is an important rhythm in its own right.

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The original question specifies time signature.

Shouldn't the answer show an additive time signature?

enter image description here

The rhythm is common and can be expressed in notation with beaming or accent marks, etc. But there also is a time signature to represent it metrically.

Here is an example from Bartok's Mikrokosmos...

enter image description here

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  • Yes that is a time signature that fits the question. I have composed music myself with that exact time signature because I wanted that particular feeling of 3 beats. Oct 5, 2022 at 22:18
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Well, I cannot view the video in Germany but { 4. 4. 4 } (two dotted crotchets and one normal crotchet) is a common syncopated rendition of the "original" { 2 4 4 } (one minim and two crotchet) rhythm of 4/4 for tango. In fact, if you are not playing old arrangements of old tangos, you are much more likely to get the syncopated version these days, particularly in Tango Argentino.

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The pattern of 3,3,2 is the first bar of the two bar sequence Bossa Nova. Generally written in 4/4. The 'ones' are accented, often on a snare drum, with the stick on the skin, tapping the rim. There's probably a proper name for that... if not, there's another question coming...

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When there are 4 beats in a bar and you have 8 quavers, the rhythms that you're talking about, despite being in groups of 3, aren't really triplets. Triplets are usually 3 quavers squeezed evenly into a space that would usually only house 2. If they were triplets, you would only have 3 beats in the bar and would be in 3/4 time - a different rhythm and feel to what I think you're describing.

In your song you've got a syncopated rhythm, 8 quavers with emphasis on the beats in bold:

1 (+2) + (3+) 4 (+)

When music is written down, the purpose of the time signature is to make it clear to the musician reading the piece (who may never have heard it) where the accents fall and how the groove is generally grouped.

With that in mind, you could write it in 4/4 time and most people would say that it would be correct, but I agree with the previous poster who said 3+3+2/8 It makes it much clearer what the feel of the song is - but then you could write it in 4/4 and make it clear in the way you group the notes; as long as it's clear where the emphasis is it doesn't really matter.

Things like that matter less when you're playing together and everyone knows the feel, and more when you're trying to record or play to a metronome. For example, when you're playing to a click track and the clicks are just going 1, 2, 3, 4 - that 4/4 feel is quite off-putting. I just had this experience recording a guitar arrangement of Stand By Me where the bassline is syncopated. I ended up recording a loop of the 123 123 12 rhythm to use as a click track to keep the feel.

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Considering the accents as you write the sequence, you could also consider it like a couple of triplets in a | 2/4 | + | 2/8 | (no triplets in this last one... simply have to respect the same tempo's metronome). But being it not a regular rhythm, consider @MichaelCurtis' example the best answer. Anyway, the way you consider accents make the difference in the way you will execute/write it. There is not a real limit in it, but only the sound result you want obtain.

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In addition to the other answers given, Bluegrass music typically follows a 3-3-2 pattern as well, usually picked out on the banjo.

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