While this piece is 12/8 time I've noticed that it's possible to count 1&2&3&. Although it feels less flowing to me when I count in 3/4 like this, I was thinking that a student might find it difficult to spot the difference in a listening exam. Any ideas how I could make it very clear to a student that this cannot be 3/4 time?

  • Would someone really think that this was in triple time? If they did then there would be almost no words in it that did not span multiple bars. That, for me, hints at the triplet feel being a subdivision of the beat. – JimM Mar 8 at 23:54

Without access to a tempo marking, it's quite ambiguous.It's a very slow 12/8. and I could easily have identified it as 6/8. As 3/4, the count would be quite rapid, although that in itself wouldn't discount it from being in 3/4.

There is often a discrepancy as to what time sig. one puts on anything - 2/2 or 4/4, for example. And often 12/8 is written in 4/4 with the triplet feel written at the beginning.

So, unless a piece is actually known to a student, it's not cast iron that the answer will be what the composer wrote.

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  • Thanks Tim, that's what I was thinking and it's comforting to know that a student should not be considered at fault if he/she perceives the time signature as 3/4. – John MC Mar 7 at 8:47
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    It's only a very slow 12/8 if it's performed very slowly. – phoog Mar 8 at 0:30

Before the invention of the metronome, musical tempo was described relative to the human heart beat rate, usually assumed to be around 80 BPM. In general the tempo was counted as something between 60 and 120 BPM.

So in its historical context, there is no way this would have been counted as 3/4 time at a very fast tempo. That sort of interpretation by a student is probably a false analogy with modern electronic dance music!

The first notation of very fast 3/4 was in Beethoven's scherzo movements, but (as Beethoven's text descriptions and dynamic marks in the 9th symphony demonstrate) that notation implied "one beat in the bar" with main accents only on every second, third or fourth bar, not on every bar.

On the other hand, it is not very clear listening to the audio whether this is in 6/8 or 12/8 time, or even maybe triplets in 4/4, but IMO all these are "correct answers" in the sense that the identify the basic (slow) pulse.

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As far as basic music theory goes, it COULD be 3/4 time. A piece in 3/4 may well fall into 4-bar phrases, aurally indistinguishable from 4 bars of slow 12/8.

There are historical conventions that tell us a Jig is likely to be written in 3/8 rather than 3/4, a Viennese waltz in 'one in a bar' 3/4 rather than 3/8 or 12/8. Military marches used to be notated in 2/4, now are likely to be in cut common time (but not 2/2). But there's little aural justification for this.

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You could really just think of it as a 4/4 swing/tuplet.

I know the real classical guys are going to hate me for that ;))

I don't get any kind of 3/4 vibe from it at all, listening to it, & as it's mainly in dotted crotchets, it sits mostly in a straight 4 with the occasional triplet.

1 2 3 2 2 3 3 2 3 4 2 3

is really how it feels to me

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  • 4/4 triplet, yes. That's just an alternative to 12/8. But do you really feel it SWINGS? – Laurence Payne Mar 7 at 15:54
  • I'm not sure Glenn Miller would be proud of it, but why not? ;) – Tetsujin Mar 7 at 15:58
  • I won't attempt the impossible of defining swing. But be assured, 'Lacrimosa' ain't it! – Laurence Payne Mar 7 at 18:03
  • I think we're all perfectly aware of that, really. – Tetsujin Mar 7 at 18:12
  • I did wonder why you said it... – Laurence Payne Mar 8 at 1:41

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