In a song I'm working on, I have 3 3/4 bars followed by a 4/4 bar, and this repeats. However the 4/4 bar is actually comprised of 4 triplets... so we have something like:

1 and 2 and 3 And 1 and 2 and 3 And 1 and 2 and 3 And 1-2-3/1-2-3/1-2-3/1-2-3 ...

I wondered if it is still best to score the 4/4 bar as 4/4 or something else?

  • 2
    What exactly is the 'pulse' of the song - as in - are you tapping your foot 3 times in the 3/4 and tapping at the same speed for the 4/4, only adding one extra tap? Or - as is sometimes the case - the 4/4 bar is executed in the same length of time as the 3/4 bar. The former is more common.
    – Tim
    Feb 4 '16 at 18:36

Marking the score 3/4 for 3 measures and then 4/4 for one, seems to fit nicely. Another thing you could try, is to mark the 4th measure as 12/8 (which works with 4 groups of 3 eighths each).

Personally, I think I would choose the first option, 4/4.

  • In a very subtle way, I perceive a slightly different feel between 4/4 triplets and 12/8 time. Maybe I just associate 12/8 with a slightly swung feeling whereas 4/4 triplets I would interpret as very even in timing. Feb 4 '16 at 16:12
  • @ToddWilcox are you referring to 12/8 in general or 12/8 as I mentioned above? Because there are other ways to group the eighths and each way has a different feeling Feb 4 '16 at 16:15
  • 1
    12/8 in general. But I think it's just my personal association between 12/8 and the types of music where I've seen it. The only "serious" source on the matter I can think of is when I finally got my hands on a score for Bolero by Ravel, I was very suprised to find it was just constant triplets instead of 12/8 time. I'm assuming there was a reason why he wrote it in the way that to me would be the more difficult of the two ways. So maybe he felt like 4/4 triplets and 12/8 are not exactly the same thing also. I do agree (and I upvoted) that 99.9% of the time they are both valid options. Feb 4 '16 at 16:18
  • @ToddWilcox: I agree with your general point, but I don’t think Ravel’s Boléro is such a clear example. Firstly, its triplets are triplet-16ths in 3/4, so rewritten in compound time it would either become 18/16, which is quite unusual and ambiguous as to its internal grouping (2x(9/16), or 3x(6/16)?), or else each 3/4 bar would become three bars of 6/16, which would drastically change the overall implied meter. Secondly, while the accompaniment has those constant triplet-16ths, the melody has lots of straight 16ths against them. So compound time really wouldn’t simplify Boléro at all.
    – PLL
    Feb 4 '16 at 19:09

A bit more information is needed. In the 4/4 bar, are the quarter notes the same length as in the 3/4 bars? In other words, is the quarter note constant (thus yielding 13 total pulses) or is each bar to be the same length (the quarters in the last bar are only 3/4 the duration as in the other bars.) Both of these are legitimate possibilities.

If the quarter note pulse is constant, then three 3/4 bars followed by one 4/4 bar with each quarter note marked as a triplet would be easy to read. If the duration of each bar is constant, the last bar could be left in 3/4 and nested tuplets used. Either a big 4 bracket over the bar (showing the quarters to be 4 in the duration of 3) and eighth-note triplets underneath, or just twelve sixteenth notes but barred in groups of three instead of groups of four (slurs over the groupings would help too.)


There are (at least) two ways to do this. As you ask for 'triplets' in the 4-beat bar, I think the first one in my example is the one you want. 3 bars of 3/4, one bar of 4/4. The quarter note beat is constant, the triplets will be faster than the straight 8's.

My second stave has 3 bars of 3/4, one of 12/8. This could imply equal 8ths, but I'd still use the 8th=8th notation to make it absolutely clear. The sound will be a string of equal length 8ths, but starting off grouped in twos, then in threes.

But I think the first one is what you want.

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Note that if you're moving back and forth between these frequently, it may make more sense to notate in 12/8.

(Pete Seeger's transcription of Paul Winters' Minuit, in 4/4, was correct but almost unreadable due to the density of triplets. Rewriting it in 12/8 tremendously clarified it.)

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