I've been studying Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, a wonderful piece known for being quite strange. Of course, there are numerous usages of tuplets, and they confuse me greatly, so I'm not entirely sure how to interpret them. For example, here's a small excerpt from the first part when the flute comes in:

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The rhythms here make absolutely no sense. I mean you first have three 16th notes and then four 32nd notes in the Flute II part, which goes beyond one whole beat, and could only logically fit there if the first three 16th notes were a triplet, which I guess the notation wants the reader to assume. And then Flute I comes in with that beast of a triplet on beat 2, and if you count the notes in the triplet, they add up to 8, which isn't even divisible by three, so I have no idea what to get from this. The only logical explanation I can come up with is that maybe the first 8th note takes up the first third of the triplet, and then the next eighth note (the one the first one is tied to) with the consecutive 16th note is "implied" to be a 16th note triplet, which takes up the second third of the entire triplet, and then the last three 16th notes are another 16th note triplet which takes up the last third of the entire triplet. Honestly, what is happening here? It would've made things so much easier if they'd add the necessary notation to have it, you know, make sense. And then there are other places in the entire piece where these things ARE specified, such as with the beginning bassoon solo when the clarinets first come in:

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See, here, the tuplet-within-a-tuplet is specified, but it's not in other places? Can anyone explain to me why it's written like this, and how to interpret the many other confusing tuplets seen throughout Le Sacre du Printemps???

1 Answer 1


The numbers and brackets are often omitted on tuplets where it is "obvious" to a professional musician what the notation means.

In your first bar, the player has a quarter note rest. The small notes are "cue" played by someone else, shown in the part as a check that the player hasn't miscounted - presumably this is after a long rest for the flute.

The second beat has two nested triplets (of 16th-notes) inside the 8th-note triplet that is marked. Presumably, there were some similar rhythms earlier in the flute part so there is no need to clutter up the score by spelling out every detail.

That said, the original (1929) score of "The rite of spring" does have rather a lot of typos, if you are looking at that, or a reprint of it! B&H published a corrected edition in 1948. And the Kalmus edition published in 2000 claims to have 21,000 corrections made by an orchestra librarian in the USA!!!

  • Well yeah, I know those are cue notes from Flute 2 (that exerpt is from the Flute 1 part, that's what I'm playing after all!) And yeah, that's what I originally thought, just a bunch of nested 16th note triplets, the OCD in me just loves seeing all those little details being spelled out for me, even if it does create a bunch of clutter, because if not, I tend to second guess myself much more than I should.
    – Sam
    May 24, 2017 at 16:19
  • @Sam I'm not a mind reader, and your question didn't give any clues how much you knew already - though phrases like "makes absolutely no sense" might suggest "I don't know much" (not knowing much isn't a problem, of course). Mark up your part any way you prefer, but for most people, repeating the same low-level-detail marking over and over again doesn't add any value.
    – user19146
    May 24, 2017 at 17:55
  • Am I not allowed to correct you? And I never intended to speak on behalf of most people.
    – Sam
    May 24, 2017 at 18:14

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