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In my Tonal Harmony book by Kostka and Payne, it says: when rhythms are notated, it is customary to use beams,ties and dots in such a way that the metric accent is emphasized rather than obscured.

What does this mean? I always thought the first note in a measure has to be played with forte accent, how are ties and beams related to this concept?

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As an example think of 6/8 meter versus 3/4. The beaming helps you visually understand the pulse.

In 6/8 you have two pulses and get two beamed groups...

enter image description here

In 3/4 you have three pulses and get three beamed groups...

enter image description here

...see how the beaming visually reinforces the number of pulses?

Normal 4/4 would be...

enter image description here

...but I suppose you could do something like...

>      >      >
_____  _____  ___
| | |  | | |  | |

...to visually emphasize a pattern with off beat accents

  • I think the usual term is "beaming" rather than "barring". – supercat Oct 2 '18 at 21:01
  • @supercat, you are right, I'll correct my wording, thanks – Michael Curtis Oct 2 '18 at 21:02
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    In the last example of Calypso rhythm, a time signature of 3+3+2 / 8 is not unknown (although I can never find actual examples when I need one!) – Andrew Leach Oct 2 '18 at 23:11
  • @AndrewLeach: The Beatles - "Because" - is phrased 332. – No'am Newman Oct 3 '18 at 4:38
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Your initial thought (emphasize downbeat) is incorrect in general. Yes, much of the time some emphasis, rather gentle, is added, but lots of music has multi-bar phrasing which is best performed with almost no accent on any of the base meter beats.

I am not familiar with the book in question, but I might guess that what they mean to say is that phrasing marks should bring out the desired emphasis patterns (not the base metrics).

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    It's very dependent on the sort of music in question. Dance music would hardly be dance music if the dancers could not discern where beat 1 is ! Hence - emphasised. – Tim Oct 2 '18 at 13:11
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    @Tim well, yes for a walz or tango, no for some thundering rave DJ club. :-) – Carl Witthoft Oct 2 '18 at 13:54
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    At a thundering rave, isn't every beat the emphasised beat 1? – Tim Oct 2 '18 at 14:32
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    @Tim, yep, that was my point. – Carl Witthoft Oct 2 '18 at 15:39
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This really has nothing to do with how you play it or how it sounds, and only with how you read and write the musical notation.

When you write any form of syncopation, you want to notate it so that the beats are still apparent.

Here's an example with a very common syncopation known in Latin music as a 'tresillo',enter image description here

The following rhythm is the exact same rhythm, just in a different notation.

enter image description here

The only difference is that in the second version, the 4/4 meter is more visible. If I add a quarter note beat alongside both, you can tell.

enter image description here

enter image description here

In the first version, the 2nd and 3rd beats are obscured within the dotted notes. In the second version the notes of the syncopated rhythm visibly line up with the 4/4 beat and therefore the meter is better emphasized. It uses the beamed 8th notes to show that there is a note halfway between the 2nd and 3rd beats and ties to link up the long notes.

The first version is fine if you want to emphasize the 3 + 3 + 2 (or 1.5 + 1.5 + 1) rhythm as the beat, especially if the music is based on that tresillo structure. However, the second version is better notation if the 4/4 beat is more important, like when the other notes or instruments in the piece are structured around the beat and not the tresillo pattern.

As a general notational rule, use beams and dots to group up notes within a metric beat, and ties to link up notes that play across more than one beat or between beats.

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