# How to read 9th measure of Debussy's Clair de Lune?

Its time signature is 9/8, so as far as I understand there should be the equivalent of nine quavers [eighth notes] in each measure, but I see there are only eight of them here. How should I play this on the piano?

The 9th measure is the first complete measure shown in the image, starting with a D♭ and A♭ in the left hand. The score is available here.

• One will assume the question is about the central bar, which clearly contains 9 quavers. The bar before might be the contentious one, with a tuplet. Please make it clear which bar. There are no bar nos.
– Tim
Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 9:44
• @Tim The complete central bar is the ninth. Score Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 10:37
• The notation is insane but correct so long as you assign the upper triplet notes to the upper ledger. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 14:31
• @CarlWitthoft There is nothing wrong with the notation. This is standard cross-staff writing. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 15:08

There are nine quavers (or eighth notes) in the bar. The fact that the right hand plays the second quaver of the first beat is probably confusing you. Let's number them for you:

1. LH bass D♭ (A♭ is held from the previous bar)
2. RH F/A♭
3. LH F/A♭ (&hold)
4. RH F/A♭ (&hold)
5. (holding)
6. (holding)
7. RH D♭/F (&hold)
8. (holding)
9. (holding)
• Actually I didn't know that was a quaver! As @yvf said, I mistook it for a crotchet. Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 22:13
• @Macarena The stem would be going in the wrong direction if it was (and there would be rests missing) Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 22:24
• I disagree -- see my answer for alternate interpretation Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 14:46
• Just to be overly specific, beat 1 is "LH bass Db (the Ab is already being held from the previous measure.) I know what's what you meant, it just took me a couple reads before I could parse it that way instead of "Play the bass Ab on 1 and hold." Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 15:32
• @Duston I've tried to clarify that. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 15:50

To address the probable cause of confusion, notice that the first notes played by the right hand are quavers beamed with the quavers from the left hand. If you mistake them for crotchets whose stem happens to overlap the beam, then it would indeed look like the bar is one quaver too short.

• Seems like a good hypothesis for the source of confusion. Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 16:16
• No, they aren't unless you also posit a hidden dot to make the quarter note a dotted quarter. I see no indication of that in any of the IMSLP scores. Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 12:52
• @CarlWitthoft I'm not sure what you're saying. The bar looked like (2+3+3)/8 to OP, who knew that it should be 9/8, and was therefore confused. Misreading the first three quavers as two quavers voiced with a crochet would make the bar look like (2+3+3)/8, so I suggested that this was OP's mistake. Dotting a crochet would add a beat, when I'm trying to explain an error that would take one from nine beats to eight, so we must not be understanding each other.
– yvf
Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 13:46
• @yvf My objection is that, if you "assign" the first three paired eighth notes to the lower staff, then the upper staff contains only the two dotted-eighths & needs something to "fill in" the first three of the nine beats. I don't care which hand plays the notes: I care that each staff is properly populated with notes. So as I think we both intended, the upper notes of each of the three pairs are intended to 'belong' to the upper staff, all is well. Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 14:44
• Oh, maybe I get what you're saying now. For piano at least (I don't know about other instruments), when beamed notes cross staves, all of the beamed notes count as belonging to both staves, even on beats with notes on only one staff. You could argue that, for such beats, writing rests on the opposite staff would be clearer (and I would agree with you), and that would definitely make each staff look full when read separately, but unfortunately convention is otherwise.
– yvf
Commented Jan 28, 2020 at 14:58

The incomplete measure has a duple -- two notes take up the space of three normal eighth notes (quavers).

Now, the first full measure: Each dotted quarter (= "dotted crotchet"?) gives us the equivalent of three eighth notes. Also, the three eighth notes at the beginning of the bar give us three eighth notes. The left hand plays low notes (D♭ and A♭, where the A♭ is tied over from the previous bar); next, the right hand plays F and A♭; and then the left hand changes clef and plays F and A♭. That's three eighth notes. The high F and A♭ (dotted quarter) should have been drawn a little bit more to the right, maybe, to line up nicely with the dotted half in the left hand, since one dotted half = two dotted quarters.

The last measure on that line: the rhythm in this bar is similar to the previous. We have three eighth notes, and then a dotted half note.

• @PiedPiper - How am I supposed to know which is the 9th measure? I played it safe and talked about all three measures, including the first which was incomplete. Commented Jan 25, 2020 at 23:39
• @PiedPiper - Ah. I will add some boldface. Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 0:53
• 'Quarter = quaver' - no, a quarter is also known as a crotchet, whereas a quaver is half that length, so an 'eighth'. Thus the time sig. of 9/8.
– Tim
Commented Jan 26, 2020 at 11:21

I am not convinced any of the other answers are completely correct.

As Piedpiper points out there would be rests in the upper line if the right-hand was supposed to play just the middle notes of the triplet. The best I can guess is that the upper triplets, which should have up-flags, belong to the upper staff (regardless of which hand plays them, and the lower triplets "belong" to the lower staff.

I'm looking at the full pages of the score, and in all other measures rests are written in, so I don't think any of the triplet constitutes "missing rests" in the upper staff.

• My reference to rests missing would only apply if one accepted the hypothesis of another poster that the middle note of the triplet was really a quarter note and its stem just happened to overlap the beam. And the piece is in 9/8 so the notes are not triplets. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 15:00
• Is that a triplet? Aren't they just regular quavers? I red this (Wikipedia): In music, a tuplet is "any rhythm that involves dividing the beat into a different number of equal subdivisions from that usually permitted by the time-signature. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 15:06
• @Macarena They are just regular quavers. I only referred to triplets in my last comment because that's the word Carl used. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 15:16
• Not a triplet in sight in that bar. Just quavers (1st 3) then dotted crotchets and a dotted minim. Tuplets in previous bar though. It's written in 9/8, not 3/4. Triplets have a bracket and '3'.
– Tim
Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 16:10
• @macarena even in N/8 time we refer to the groups of three eighth-notes as triplets. Commented Jan 27, 2020 at 19:12