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Bar 3 is incorrect, because the 3rd quaver in the group should have a stronger accent than the first quaver. The importance of the third beat of the bar is hidden.

So why is this a rule? Can't the musician hit an accented beat on the third quaver?

  • 1
    I've never heard about this rule. May be it is a rule for teachers dictating rhythm patterns? Jan 9, 2020 at 9:52
  • I've edited the post, it might be clearer to figure out now.
    – Keretto
    Jan 9, 2020 at 9:58
  • Bar 3 is not incorrect, it;s just bad practice. There is no rule, just recommendations based on experience.
    – PiedPiper
    Jan 9, 2020 at 15:04

4 Answers 4


In the USA we tend to format phone numbers like this: 1(555) 412-1234 or 1-555-412-1234. Pretty easy to read right?

What about this: 15554121234

Same info but much harder to read.

This is the same. There is a unwritten rule that we use what I was taught to call “the imaginary bar line”. It is strictly for making the music easier to read by breaking things in to smaller more manageable chunks in a predictable way.

The same way you wouldn’t bar two eighth notes spanning over two measures (from beat 4 to beat 1) we also don’t bar notes between the 2nd and 3rd beat because there is an imaginary bar line that divides the bar in half.

I think there are other imaginary bar lines that take place in the measure when you are dealing with faster notes like 16ths and 32nds.

Check out here for more info:



It's 'incorrect' because in even time signatures, (4/4, 6/8 etc.) it's easier to read bars when they can be seen to split, physically, into two equal halves. Sadly, it's not always the case these days, but it definitely makes life easier.

Response to comments - keeping bars in two halves makes it necessary to use ties when something is syncopated. Some readers (inc. me) find that easier to see that there is indeed a syncopation.

Piiperi - from where I stand, the point of any written music is to make it as simple as possible for as many players as possible to be able to read it easily. If that necessitates keeping bars splittable into halves, then so be it. Of course, seasoned readers have no problems even 'reading fly excrement' (it's a muso phrase!), but why exclude the others, who need simplicity? Not sure that U.K.'dumb' is equivalent to yours...

  • Right, but how 'exactly' is it easier? Is it because the way the notes are written are compatible with our counting pattern and so it feels more 'natural'?
    – Keretto
    Jan 9, 2020 at 10:19
  • It's a very characteristically Western thing. :) Of course, the whole notation system is Western, but in it, rhythms are assumed to be dumb by default, and deviations from dumbness are expanded and written. ;) So, if there's a syncopated phrase crossing the half-bar boundary, you have to break it down to half-bar pieces, because otherwise poor players don't understand it. Western musician. Simple rhythm. Short sentence. Please. No fancy thing. Musician not understand! Assume dumb musician. Keep simple. Not hard! ;) Jan 9, 2020 at 10:20
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica It has nothing to do with poor players not understanding it. Professionals also prefer the bar split in the middle because it makes sight-reading so much easier.
    – PiedPiper
    Jan 9, 2020 at 15:01
  • 1
    @piiperiReinstateMonica This whole question is about the notation of western music. I'm sure Ghanaian drum music has different notation conventions (if indeed it's notated at all).
    – PiedPiper
    Jan 9, 2020 at 19:47
  • 1
    @piiperiReinstateMonica I do find these differences interesting, but this question is probably not the best place to discuss them.
    – PiedPiper
    Jan 9, 2020 at 20:06

I take exception to the part of the explanation which says the 3rd beat is emphasized. That's simply not true (except for rock music :-) ). In fact the beaming as written suggests the four eighth notes constitute a 'run' up to the 4th beat, and if anything the 4th beat would get some emphasis.

If you want the 3rd beat to be the strong one, then I would agree that the eighths should be in two groups, and probably put an emphasis mark of one kind or another over the first eighth note of the 3rd beat.

  • This comes over as more comment than answer.
    – Tim
    Jan 9, 2020 at 17:19
  • @Tim probably true -- I should emphasize the part about using beaming to "lead" the performer to the desired heavy - beat pattern. Jan 9, 2020 at 19:11

This rule I know in other words:

The middle of a measure (4/4 time) should be clear separated to be easier read and recognized. So it doesn't make sense to beam the notes passing the middle part of the bar. This is why bar 3 is incorrect.

As you can see the rule is concerning the notation, not the rhythm pattern. The rhythm of bar 2 and 3 are identical.

  • I could tolerate a longer passage of the 332 or 12221 pattern breaking this rule ... Jan 9, 2020 at 10:11

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