Teach Yourself Music Theory – 20.) Mixing Beat Divisions

To remind: when you are in simple meter (4/4) the beat is easily divided into 2s or 4s, and when you are in compound meter (12/8) the beat is divided into 3s or 6s. Review old posts if you are not familiar with these concepts.

However, just because you are in simple meter doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate compound meter divisions.

Take an example below:

We know that this piece is in duple meter because the time signature is 4/4, but there is a figure notated with a “3.” This is called a triplet, and it appears in duple meter pieces to tell the performer to divide the beat into three eighth notes of even length instead of two – just as you would find in a compound meter.

This can happen in reverse, too…

Thae a look now at this example:

This piece is in compound meter (12/8 and the beat is divided into 3s), but there are two figures – one noted with a “2” and the other with a “4.” They are called duplets and quadruplets respectively, and they divide the beats in compound meter pieces into even divisions.

Practice performing switching between these different divisions.

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Tip #98 – Pushing-Forward by Dropping a Beat

There are several ways that you can create an effect of pushing forward within a piece of music. The music can increase in dynamics (volume), increase in tempo (speed), become more accentuated, modulate, or have rhythmic anticipations in the melody or harmony.

But what if we become so anticipatory that we skip an entire beat?

In some compositions and popular songs, a steady meter of 4/4 might momentarily drop to 3/4 do accomplish some of the following:

  1. Push forward to a new section
  2. Create a moment of cutting-off early an older section
  3. Reformat the melody to land on a strong beat in an awkward meter

Each of them having the common purpose to make things line metrically in the song according to the hierarchy of beats while creating an unexpected surprise while dropping a beat to mimic momentum into a new section.

I encourage you to play around with a melodic riff and see how dropping a beat in a what-would-be 4/4 sound like.

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