In Romantic music, especially for piano, one can often find oversized tuplets like this one: (the excerpt comes from the very beginning of the 3rd movement of Grieg's piano concerto)

Score showing a 13-tuplet in the left- and right-hand staves

Are you really supposed to play them "precisely" (i. e., in the first bar, each note and rest for only 8/13 of the notated length)? That looks like a nearly impossible task (or at least countless hours spent with the metronome). Or is it "acceptable" to break them down into smaller parts (triplets, quintuplets, heptuplets), for instance like this?

each 13-tuplet is broken down into a 6-tuplet followed by a 7-tuplet

Or is there any other way? On the recordings, the whole run is performed so fast that I can't even discern how exactly it is played...

P.S.: I don't play the piano at all. I'm just wondering since those tuplets seem to pop up quite a lot. Meanwhile the biggest (prime) tuplet I can play is a heptuplet, and I never found any larger tuplet in any rhythm practice book either.

  • 4
    They are not at ALL to be interpretted in the way the West African tradition of rhythm would interpret those tuplets. It basically means "squidge these notes into this space", and there's nothing wrong with that ;D
    – Some_Guy
    Oct 10, 2017 at 14:44
  • 1
    Sorry, that wasn't too clear, by west African I mean in the sense that music with a "groove", interprets tuplets: as polyrhythms to be rendered precisely. In common practice music, meter is much more flexible: tempo is one of the musical elements available to you as a tool of expression. In modern performance practice, classical musicians are VERY free with their interpretations of Tuplets (although they might not admit it). That's generally truer and truer of earlier recordings too, for straight rhythms AND tuplets see this for an example: youtu.be/qFPW9ENtNKA?t=370
    – Some_Guy
    Oct 10, 2017 at 14:50
  • youtu.be/tVV3SIvncD4?t=177 for an example of how a run of fast tuplets might be rendered (depends on context)
    – Some_Guy
    Oct 10, 2017 at 15:15
  • Examples from Chopin's nocturnes (and various other slower pieces) would probably be better, because they are often slow enough that one can discern whether or not the performer is performing them precisely metronomically. Oct 10, 2017 at 16:41
  • @KyleStrand: Yes. However, these tend to contain the tuplets of notes printed in smaller size. I understood the small-sized (not grace) notes to generally mean "just somehow fit these notes into the given space" before asking the question, so hearing that these are rubato-ed wouldn't strike me as anything weird. I chose the Grieg concerto because it was the first thing to come up to my mind when I was thinking about long tuplets that looked like being meant seriously.
    – Ramillies
    Oct 10, 2017 at 22:05

2 Answers 2


They aren't necessarily supposed to be played with metronomical precision of the 13:8 ratio, but they are supposed to make up a homogeneous run with no unequal subdivision. In particular, there should be no note in the run that clearly hits the 2 beat, as the B and A do in your proposed subdivision, so that approach is no good. I would at least not train to play that subdivision, especially not in a rigid fashion with those sub-tuplets counted out.

Really, much the idea behind such tuplets is usually to lose the track of a steady rhythm, in favour of a more dreamy or disoriented impression. Instead of counting them out in any rigid way, one should focus on the run as a whole, where it leads, and that it goes over smoothly with no kind of interruption. The entire thing should then ideally also last about one bar, but that's not as crucial really – a bit of rubato is almost always ok in romantic music.

  • 2
    Great answer: The idea is a smooth flurry of notes to be played fluidly
    – Some_Guy
    Oct 10, 2017 at 15:15
  • 1
    Good general answer, but not relevant to this particular example. This flourish from the Grieg concerto is anything but "dreamy or disoriented".
    – Laurence
    Oct 11, 2017 at 11:18
  • I'm not sure if that was your intention, but the phrase "no unequal subdivision" suggests they should be somehow equal. While they may be if that expresses the intended emotion, such passages should be played with phrasing (using timing, dynamics, etc.).
    – dtldarek
    Oct 11, 2017 at 13:46

In a slower tempo, this type of gesture might well be played with a degree of rubato. In this context, as you say, the intention is just a brilliant flourish, filling one bar of a brisk 2/4.

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