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I have been trying out various questions on music theory to prepare for my grade 5 exam on Wednesday and I have come across many pieces with grouped notes but with a number above for example six grouped notes with a 6 written above. What does it mean?

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Tuplets. The most common sort is a triplet - three notes played in the time of two. Sometimes a pair of tuplets are written as a sextuplet.

All of the bars in this example add up correctly in 4/4 time.

enter image description here

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These are "tuplets." The usual simple examples are

  • "3" means "play 3 notes in the time of two" (called "triplets")
  • "2" means "play 2 notes in the time of three" (e.g. two 8th-notes in 6/8 time)
  • "6" means "6 notes in the time of 4".

For more complicated examples, often the ratio is written, e.g. "5:3" means "play 5 notes in the time of 3".

And in really complicated examples, tuplets can be written inside other tuplets - but this example is a bit more advanced than a grade 5 theory exam! (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

enter image description here

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