Let us consider the 2/4 time. Now, let's say I split up all the beats by 2 in one bar. This gives me a total of four 1/8th notes. Now, in some cases, I've seen that, they are grouped as 2 pairs or grouped together as 1 huge beat. I understand that both are exactly the same theory wise. But, what is the difference?

Does it mean that in the first case, the third beat should have a down beat, accented, etc? Or are both the ways of writing it exactly same?

I apologize I'm unable to draw this out. I hope my question is clear. Any help is appreciated.

5 Answers 5


In 2/4 it's hardly a problem, with four notes maximum when they're all quavers. One beam across all, or two beams is o.k. - according to ABRSM. However, if there were more, shorter notes (semis, for example), it is easier to read when the bar is split into two halves.

The same applies to 4/4, where it's easier to read when a bar can be seen split into two, equally. Sometimes this means tying notes across the middle of the bar, but I find that easier to read.So, in 4/4, with short notes, beam each half separately.


There may be a slight implication that the first (eighth) note in a beamed set is slightly emphasized and the rest are not. IMO, I often don't feel this occurs for the groupings of 2 eighth notes or the grouping of 4 eighth notes that the question mentions.

However, the accenting implication is clearer in 2 extreme cases:

  • Tremolos: Sometimes, tremolos are notated with a note length indicating how long you should play the tremolo for (e.g. dotted half note) with a set of beams indicating the length of each note in the tremolo on top (e.g. one beam for eighth notes). This more clearly indicates that the first note in the tremolo should be emphasized and the rest should not.
  • Odd number of notes in grouping: Syncopated music can use groupings of 3 eighth notes, especially to convey which notes should be emphasized.

In 2/4 I think grouping 8ths as 4 rather than 2+2 is merely slightly incorrect, though harmless. It may say a little about the required stresses, but 2/4 is rarely anything other than '2 in a bar'.

  • Sir, I'm not sure if grouping 8ths as 4 is incorrect for the reason that many popular softwares like musescore.com automatically group them as 4, rather than having the '2 in a bar'. Are you certain of this claim?
    – user30967
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 19:57
  • I've just checked in MuseScore, and the default setting is 2+2. Likewise in Sibelius. Gould tells us that in 2/4 and 3/4 'any number of 8ths may be grouped together'. So let's say 2+2 is more usual, but 4 is perfectly acceptable. Anjd we shouldn't read any special meaning into choosing one or the other.
    – Laurence
    Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 21:48
  • @LaurencePayne, is "Gould" the book Behind Bars? Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 18:14

I think a grouped fits the timing of the measure perfectly, a group unconnected is a shorter interval than the sections time divided by the number of quarter notes.


it's convention to make it less confusing and understanding the nature of beat: downbeat and upbeats

so yes different beaming will affect the course of the beat. You should try to beam as much as possible though.


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