I had a look at different operas and songs with piano accompaniment. I noticed that one often does not connect beams that one usually would in instrumental music (such as four sixteenth notes in 4/4), except when the same (part of) word is used for multiple notes. Is this a general rule or are there other possibilities as well? Is this not a confusing way of notating music for classical singers?

Consider for instance following schematic example where I is shared by the first two notes, and want and to only have one note.

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Comment to Tim's answer

Indeed, but there might be cases where not beaming notes might in my opinion make the rhythm less understandeable. The first thing I wood do when having to sing following example, would be to rewrite the rhythm by beaming everything per quarter note.

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3 Answers 3


There have been various fashions over the years. There seems no justification for syllabic beaming in a modern edition. I sometimes, semi-jocularly, wonder if the practice might be responsible for singers' notorious inability to count!

This is what Gould has to say...

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It's more to do with the phrasing, or in this case, the wording. 'I' is sung on two slurred notes, so it makes sense to join the semis, whereas 'want' and 'to' are separate words, so the semis are kept separate. It just makes it a little clearer for the reader, rather than more confusing.One would probably do the same to help understand phrasing in an instrumental.

  • See comment in the question.
    – Karlo
    May 1, 2017 at 16:33
  • 1
    That's pretty facile, as the same sound is re-iterated several times. It would be sensible in that case to beam. I'm beaming at the thought...
    – Tim
    May 1, 2017 at 19:37

Different times, different conventions. In Bach's time it was customary to beam to the syllables. I think this stopped more or less in the Romantic period. Advantages are better recognition of the relation to the meter (which can be a curse rather than a blessing for Baroque and Renaissance music) and less head-scratching for instrumentalists trying to double a vocal part.

The latter actually can be a disadvantage again: when an instrument doubles a vocal part, an indication of the phrasing may actually lead to a more harmonious combination.

So basically we are talking about advantages and disadvantages here. The respective weight assigned to each has changed over the centuries.

  • This beaming convention persisted well past the Romantic period.
    – Laurence
    Aug 9, 2019 at 11:57

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