This is the measure that's confusing me:

wonky music

The piece is in 4/4 time, so I count 4 1/2 beats in the treble clef and 5 beats in the bass clef.

I'm not sure if I've just miscounted the beats in the treble and bass clef a million times or if there's such a thing as an unwritten polyrhythm or what.

Maybe the leggiero has something to do with it?

  • 12
    Are the quintuplets marked in a preceding bar (measure)? It's not uncommon for repeated tuplets to not be naked in subsequent bars. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 6:45
  • 1
    Could you mention the name of this piece? It could give insight to analyze the issue better, perhaps by hearing the recorded performance.
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 8:15
  • This is the whole piece: drive.google.com/file/d/…, the measure I was puzzling with is at the top of page 3. I think the two answers I got clear up my confusion though.
    – Vivalande
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 14:49
  • I hit "Need Permission" trying to read that file.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 19:14

4 Answers 4


Here's how I'd interpret it. Excuse my lack of drawing skill.

enter image description here

There are four beats in the right hand, each a crotchet in length. I've drawn lines between each beat to make them clear.

The left hand seems to be using quintuplets, but they've omitted the little "5" you'd normally expect. So yes, it is a polyrhythm; 5 against 4. I've seen omitted markings with triplets, but not more complicated tuplets, so I may be wrong.

Leggiero means light, delicate. So that's an expression indicator, and doesn't govern rhythm.

  • 9
    I'd agree - it's pretty obvious that the lower staff is quintuplets even tho' not marked, at least not in this measure. Wonder if the first bar or two in this sequence was marked, and just left off the remainder of the measures. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 12:19
  • 6
    It's correct to hand-draw things like this. Actually, in some worlds (Meta.StackExchange, I'm looking at you!), doing it the other way would give you downvotes...
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 14:54
  • 3
    Freehand fives.
    – hobbs
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 21:00
  • @hobbs: Or, looking at it another way, just really poorly executed freehand circles... Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 15:04
  • Note to self: you obtain more internet points if you include crappy touchpad drawings. I have finally found my calling in life.
    – endorph
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 21:08

I would not call this a polyrhythm. Technically, it is one. Practically, the LH is playing slow arpeggios. In places like this, the rhythmical precision is with the right hand, whereas the left hand can be a bit sloppy.

So if I played this, I would make sure my right hand is timed precisely, and the left hand plays the first note in each beat at the very correct time, maybe even slightly louder than the rest (but just so slightly).

As for the typesetting, the setter could have included the little 5s above/below each beam, but you quite often see these omitted in places like this.

  • 2
    "I would not call this a polyrhythm. Technically, it is one." Can you expand on why you would not call this a polyrhythm if it is one? Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 15:05
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Well, it is not one in real, it just looks like one when written. The thing is that as I explain, the LH is not really playing a rhythm.
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 16:13

I agree with @yo' (I don't have reputation yet to comment in his/her answer), not just by that measure itself, but also by other measures in the piece (link of the piece). The left hand keeps the leggiero technique in these measures, I think:

  • 2nd half of 21 -- 23 (measure 22 is on the question)
  • 2nd half of 25
  • 2nd half of 29
  • 34 -- 38
  • 41

Another argument against polyrhythm in these measures is the measure 48, that shows a well-signed tuplet (12 notes). If the composer did mark that tuplet, there wouldn't be no reason to not mark tuplets on other measures, if on other measures the effect would be polyrhythmic.

Leggiero resembles Chopin or Debussy expressions, which express polyrhythm by poetic means. For instance, in the beginning of Debussy's Préludes, book 1, prélude III (Le vent dans la plaine), there's the expression "aussi légèrement que possible", meaning "as light/delicate as possible". Debussy annotates the tuplet, but he's a man of XIX century: that was the practice. Today it's very common to annotate textures without marking tuplets explicitly, if what you want is not related to polyrhythm.

  • Oh, seeing the whole score, it's obvious now that the typesetter did a really poor job here!
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 16:16

This is a poorly written measure. There are, indeed, 20 sixteenth notes in the bass clef and 18 in the treble, so if considered a poly-rhythm it is 9 against 10, which is ridiculous. Without seeing the rest of the piece, I would assume these are unwritten quints, though that leaves the reader to guess where the extra two sixteen notes are to fit in the treble clef.

  • I count 16 sixteenths in the treble, making it 4 against 5, as the others have said. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 20:02
  • Ah, yes, I thought those were dotted eighths. Agreed, 4 against 5.
    – Tom B.
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 0:03
  • And maybe that's how Vivalande came up with 4 1/2 beats as well
    – Tom B.
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 0:05
  • In any case, I think it's probably very difficult to play accurately. Four against five, slowly, with all beats, sure. I do it all the time. But fast, and syncopated? A real challenge. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 11:31

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