(musTh1) Reading, Rhythmic/Metric Beaming

For Friday, 8/28, read chapter B in the Roig-Francoli (RF), and the following information about beaming and ties, from Professor Oravitz. If you’d like to print out the following to have and to hold, look for rhythmic_beaming.pdf in my iLocker account.

To Beam or not to beam: an initial guide to using beams in rhythmic/metric notation, by Michael Oravitz

The following is a list of helpful rules regarding certain ambiguious tasks of beaming and note-grouping within various time-signatures.  When deciding on what beams and values to use in various time signatures, the primary governing principle is to make sure that beats, especially the beginning point of beats, can be clearly seen by the reader of the music.

1) Whenever possible, whether in a simple or compound meter, beam together all note values that are

  • a) consecutive (that is, adjacent) and within a beat, and
  • b)  are less than a quarter note in length.

The simple rule is “beam within the beat.” The more exact version of that rule is “beam together all values that are less than a quarter note and do so within the beat.”

In most cases, you want to avoid beaming two note values together that go over a beat, because that obscures the visual location of the beat and thus makes the music more difficult to read (especially at first sight).

Here’s an exception. In simple meters, if there are note values that are all less than a quarter note and they begin on a beat, they may all be beamed together even though they go over a beat,  as long as the last note of the beam completes a beat.  For example, in 3/4 time, if there is a quarter note followed by four consecutive 8thth notes, those 8th notes may all be beamed together, since that group of four notes began on a beat and ended up completing another beat.

2.  In compound meters, the usual tradition is to make sure that every beat (be it strong or weak) is visually represented with a new note value.   Of course, an exception is made in compound duple when the measure’s initial downbeat articulation lasts through the entire measure. In such cases, a single value would represent the entire length of the remaining complete weak beat, such as a dotted half-note for a measure of 6/8.

For compound triple meter, a value taking up the entire measure is usually notated with a value that takes up all of beats one and two tied to another value that takes up beat three, such as a dotted half tied to a dotted quarter in 9/8 time.

In compound meters in general, a value beginning on a weak beat should never be so long as to persist into (and over) the next strong beat.  Rather, the note value should be broken down into smaller values so that the beat can be completed and then tied to whatever note value begins the next beat.  For example, in 12/8, you would usually not use a dotted half note to represent a sound lasting through beats 2 and 3; rather, you would notate two dotted quarters and tie them together at the end of the weak beat.

3.  In simple meters, if an articulation begins directly on a strong beat and carries over into the next beat without completing that next beat, then dotted values that span into the middle of an uncompleted beat can be used to represent the time span of the initial articulation, even though that dotted value will not complete the time span of the following beat.   For example, in 3/4 time,  the rhythmic notation of dotted quarter-eighth-quarter would be fine, even though theinitial longer value goes over beat one.

4.  If any articulation does not begin directly on a beat (if it begins off the beat) and continues through another following beat, whether in simple or compound meter, it cannot be notated with a single note value.  Instead, it must be notated with a pair of tied note values as follows:

  • a)  the first note = the value that completes its beat only (the note value initiating the offbeat articulation should not cross over into the next beat)
  • b)  the second note, which is tied to the first, equals whatever value is necessary to complete the length of the sound being represented in notation.


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