I'm trying to notate a song which starts out in 4/4 time (with two 8th notes per beat) and changes to a triplet feel (with three 8th notes per beat and four beats in a bar) part-way through the song. Currently I'm notating this as a change to 12/8 time, but my tempo is given in quarter notes per minute meaning that after the time signature change the tempo effectively slows down (because there is now 1.5 quarter notes in each beat rather than 1). Is this the correct way to notate a change in feel, and if so how do I get around the tempo problem?

  • You don't necessarily need to notate anything around the meter change. Look at Prokofiev's first sonata for example; it switches between 4/4 and 12/8 all the time. Nothing is indicated, but it is quite clear that you shouldn't change the tempo (although the fact that Prokofiev sometimes uses 4/4 and 12/8 at the same time is kind of a give away). Generally, you can tell based on textures or repeated themes if and how you should change the tempo at a meter change. Many classical pieces contain changes between less obviously related meters without comment.
    – 11684
    Jan 30, 2017 at 20:12
  • By the way, that's not to say that you shouldn't, I just wanted to give some context. An annotation like Patrx2 suggests is both common and clear.
    – 11684
    Jan 30, 2017 at 20:14

3 Answers 3


It depends a bit on your notation programme whether or not playback will work properly, but, from a notation point of view, you either notate triplets if the change is fairly temporary, or you use something like

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over the bar line that demarcates the change if the change is going to stick around for a long enough time (which is your judgement call). The alternative is to use "dotted crotchet = <existing tempo>" over the first bar in the new metre.

  • This is what I am currently doing. This way, I don't have to place the same tempo marking in two different places, but can just say "what used to be the duration of a quarter note is now the duration of a dotted quarter note". Both my notation software and, I imagine, most performers would be able to understand this. Jan 30, 2017 at 18:42

Simplest way is to annotate at the beginning of the 'swung' part with a crotchet = crotchet and quaver, with a slur under the latter two. Even with the word 'swing'. Such as you'd find at the beginning of a whole piece that had a 12/8 feel, but was written in 4/4.

  • It's not swung. There are actually three notes played in each beat (generally, unless there's a held note). Jan 30, 2017 at 16:28
  • I think you could still annotate it but with crotchet = three triplets (in dots), which would then keep the tempo the same.
    – Tim
    Jan 30, 2017 at 16:33
  • I've just added a dotted crotchet = crotchet tempo marking at the time signature change and now my notation editor's keeping the bpm constant (as I wanted). I don't know if this is standard or not though. Jan 30, 2017 at 16:36
  • 1
    That is the easiest way for musos to understand and read what you want.
    – Tim
    Jan 30, 2017 at 16:39

If you want to keep the same quarter-note beat you could write triplets. If this becomes unwieldy, you could write 12/8. Yes, a sequencer will need a tempo adjustment. Maybe you can tell it directly 'dotted quarter=120' (or whatever) instead of 'quarter=120'. Or it may recognize a 'metric modulation' notation. The score publishing programs (Sibelius, Finale...) can cope with this. Ones that aren't notation-based may want a literal 'quarter=120' even if the beat IS a dotted quarter. You'll have to do the math.

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