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Is 3/8 compound time or simple time?


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#1 Roseau

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 22:28

I thought that 3/8 was simple time because you would divide each quaver beat into semi-quavers (ie into 2, whereas 6/8 is compound because each dotted crotchet beat can be divided into 3 quavers). However, I am teaching English to some French music students and they all spontaneously said that it was compound time because the three quavers added up to a dotted crotchet.

I am inclined to think that they are right as they are very good players (as in at least 1st diploma) and as this is France they have done a lot of theory as well but part of me is not convinced since you would then theoretically only have 1 beat in a bar. Or am I missing something obvious? *confused* wacko.gif
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#2 sbhoa

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 22:31

It's simple triple.
Has to be a multiple of 3 but not 3 itself for compound time.
If it was compound it would be one in a bar and by the same reasoning 3/4 would also be compound as is 6/4.
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#3 Tenor Viol

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 22:38

QUOTE(sbhoa @ Feb 21 2012, 10:31 PM)  
It's simple triple.
Has to be a multiple of 3 but not 3 itself for compound time.
If it was compound it would be one in a bar and by the same reasoning 3/4 would also be compound as is 6/4.

What sbhoa said. If the "how many of these are there in a bar" number is 3, then it is simple (3/4, 3/8, 3/2 etc). To be compound it must be a mutliple of 3 (6/2, 6/4, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8 etc).

This is one of the weaknesses of our notation system. Medieval and early Renaissance notation had much better way of doing this, but that's another story smile.gif

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#4 owainsutton

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 23:05

QUOTE(sbhoa @ Feb 21 2012, 10:31 PM)  

It's simple triple.
Has to be a multiple of 3 but not 3 itself for compound time.
If it was compound it would be one in a bar and by the same reasoning 3/4 would also be compound as is 6/4.

"Compound" indicates bigger beats made out of smaller ones, not "2 or more multiplied by 3". The ABRSM theory questions do manage to dodge the ambiguity, by specifiying "duple, triple or quadruple".

However, that list clearly is missing "single" as its first member...and I do regard 3/8 as the point at which this classification breaks down. It's so frequently used in a one-in-a-bar context that insisting that it is triple time becomes dogmatic rather than descriptive.

QUOTE(Tenor Viol)
This is one of the weaknesses of our notation system. Medieval and early Renaissance notation had much better way of doing this

I couldn't agree more!
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#5 Robodoc

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Posted 21 February 2012 - 23:57

QUOTE(Tenor Viol @ Feb 21 2012, 10:38 PM)  

QUOTE(sbhoa @ Feb 21 2012, 10:31 PM)  
It's simple triple.
Has to be a multiple of 3 but not 3 itself for compound time.
If it was compound it would be one in a bar and by the same reasoning 3/4 would also be compound as is 6/4.

What sbhoa said. If the "how many of these are there in a bar" number is 3, then it is simple (3/4, 3/8, 3/2 etc). To be compound it must be a mutliple of 3 (6/2, 6/4, 6/8, 9/8, 12/8 etc).

This is one of the weaknesses of our notation system. Medieval and early Renaissance notation had much better way of doing this, but that's another story smile.gif

I'm intrigued: Tell us the other story. Please?
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#6 fsharpminor

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 08:19

Yes Simple Triple, 3/8 is the same as 3/4 or 3/2
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#7 owainsutton

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 08:47

QUOTE(fsharpminor @ Feb 22 2012, 08:19 AM)  

Yes Simple Triple, 3/8 is the same as 3/4 or 3/2

Then why do we beam the quavers in threes?...
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#8 linda.ff

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 09:13

QUOTE(owainsutton @ Feb 22 2012, 08:47 AM)  

QUOTE(fsharpminor @ Feb 22 2012, 08:19 AM)  

Yes Simple Triple, 3/8 is the same as 3/4 or 3/2

Then why do we beam the quavers in threes?...

Because it's easier to read them that way. We can also beam quavers in 4s even when we're in 4/4 and in 6s when we're in 3/4. In nthose instances it doesn't alter the counting, so I don't think it's significant in 3/8 either.

I think the fact that we would very likely beat one in a bar for many pieces in 3/8 is neither here nor there - ever conducted a Viennese Waltz?

If it were compound that would mean one beat in every bar. I'm not sure you can have that. The point about meter is that it shows where the stress is and divides the rhythm into "feet". Triple time has one strong beat in every bar, and you could write out the same melody in 3/2, 3/4 and 3/8 and specify the same metronimic value for all of them. The theory pupil then asks "why would they do that?" and I think the answer is partly psychological. Having a quaver beat generally gives the music a lighter "touch", a minim beat tends to give more of a feeling of breadth
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#9 fsharpminor

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 09:13

QUOTE(owainsutton @ Feb 22 2012, 08:47 AM)  

QUOTE(fsharpminor @ Feb 22 2012, 08:19 AM)  

Yes Simple Triple, 3/8 is the same as 3/4 or 3/2

Then why do we beam the quavers in threes?...


You cant beam crotchets and minims !! smile.gif
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#10 Roseau

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 09:16

QUOTE(owainsutton @ Feb 22 2012, 12:05 AM)  

However, that list clearly is missing "single" as its first member...and I do regard 3/8 as the point at which this classification breaks down. It's so frequently used in a one-in-a-bar context that insisting that it is triple time becomes dogmatic rather than descriptive.

So would you describe 3/8 as "single" time? (And is this an "official description"?)

QUOTE(owainsutton @ Feb 22 2012, 09:47 AM)  

QUOTE(fsharpminor @ Feb 22 2012, 08:19 AM)  

Yes Simple Triple, 3/8 is the same as 3/4 or 3/2

Then why do we beam the quavers in threes?...

This is pretty much how the discussion with my students went yesterday (I said what fsharpminor said and the students said what owainsutton said) and I had no answer to Owainsutton's question.

Edit: posted this at the same time as Fsharpminor and Lindaff
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#11 owainsutton

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 09:20

QUOTE(Roseau @ Feb 22 2012, 09:16 AM)  

So would you describe 3/8 as "single" time? (And is this an "official description"?)

The 'official' description, with respect to theory exams, is that it's simple triple. But the same exam-oriented classification avoids any suggestion of 'single' time...which makes a description of 1/4 rather problematic!
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#12 linda.ff

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 09:38

QUOTE(owainsutton @ Feb 22 2012, 09:20 AM)  

QUOTE(Roseau @ Feb 22 2012, 09:16 AM)  

So would you describe 3/8 as "single" time? (And is this an "official description"?)

The 'official' description, with respect to theory exams, is that it's simple triple. But the same exam-oriented classification avoids any suggestion of 'single' time...which makes a description of 1/4 rather problematic!

But do you really get music in a time-signature of 1/4? Other than the odd bar in the middle of a rhythmically quirky piece, I mean? Or written by a modern composer who just want to make a point? Can you point us at a piece of music that is written throughut with a time-sig of 1/4?
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#13 Roseau

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 09:44

QUOTE(owainsutton @ Feb 22 2012, 10:20 AM)  

QUOTE(Roseau @ Feb 22 2012, 09:16 AM)  

So would you describe 3/8 as "single" time? (And is this an "official description"?)

The 'official' description, with respect to theory exams, is that it's simple triple. But the same exam-oriented classification avoids any suggestion of 'single' time...which makes a description of 1/4 rather problematic!

Sorry, I'm not being very clear. I wondered what I could tell my French students, who will not be taking any AB exams (in fact they don't yet know that the AB exists, although a bit later on in the course, I will be doing something on the English music exam system).

They unanimously rejected "simple triple" as a description because three quavers are beamed together and add up to a dotted crotchet and their definition of "compound time" is that the beat is in dotted somethings. For them it was therefore compound time with one beat in a bar.

I did wonder if perhaps the English and French definition of simple and compound time is different, or at least explained differently. Like most people on here (I imagine) I work out intervals by looking at the key signature and then calculating (if necessary) the way the note differs from what would be in the scale in that key. The French do it by counting tones and semi-tones and where the tones and semi-tones fall in relation to the TTSTTTS of a major scale. I find it very laborious to do it their way and they find it equally laborious to do it my way but the end result is the same.

As I said in my first post, my theory knowledge is limited compared to that of the students (and a lot of you on here). I was taught that you need to look at how the beat is subdivided so 3/4 is 3/4 because you have three lots of two quavers and 6/8 is 6/8 because you have two lots of three quavers. They worded it as "you look at what the subdivisions add up to."
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#14 linda.ff

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 09:59

QUOTE(Roseau @ Feb 22 2012, 09:44 AM)  


They unanimously rejected "simple triple" as a description because three quavers are beamed together and add up to a dotted crotchet and their definition of "compound time" is that the beat is in dotted somethings. For them it was therefore compound time with one beat in a bar.


Do they not admit of the possibility of a quaver beat? What would they make of 5/8?

Fur Elise is in 3/8. Get them to beat time to it (at a moderate speed, of course). Then get them to beat time to the scherzo of Beethoven's 9th symphony which is written in 3/4, a simple time. Very likely they will beat 3 to Fur Elise and 1 in a bar to the Beethoven.
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#15 owainsutton

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Posted 22 February 2012 - 10:29

QUOTE(linda.ff @ Feb 22 2012, 09:59 AM)  

QUOTE(Roseau @ Feb 22 2012, 09:44 AM)  


They unanimously rejected "simple triple" as a description because three quavers are beamed together and add up to a dotted crotchet and their definition of "compound time" is that the beat is in dotted somethings. For them it was therefore compound time with one beat in a bar.


Do they not admit of the possibility of a quaver beat? What would they make of 5/8?

That gets put under the heading 'complex'. I can't see how that's an appropriate description of 1/4.

QUOTE
Fur Elise is in 3/8. Get them to beat time to it (at a moderate speed, of course). Then get them to beat time to the scherzo of Beethoven's 9th symphony which is written in 3/4, a simple time. Very likely they will beat 3 to Fur Elise and 1 in a bar to the Beethoven.

Yep, and the finale of the Enigma Variations reaches a beat of one every three, then every four, bars. (It's explicitly indicated in the score with brackets over the bars, at figures 79 and 81.) All of which goes to show how the theory-oriented duple/triple/simple/compound descriptions don't necessarily tell us what we need to know about how the music is intended to sound.
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