Note on rhythm notation

Mirror Smasher, in its nine minute form for November 5, is pretty well done. By which I mean the piano parts are pretty well done – there’s still a ton to do with electronics and engraving. Regarding engraving, I ran into something that I thought might help other composers to know.

Here’s an email I sent to Sarah and Thomas, the pianists who make up HOCKET:

It’s pretty minimalist, a la Perich or Reich, but with a lot crazier phrase length stuff (3 against 4 against 5 against 7, action like that. Pulse is shared, so not a polyrhythm there).

Would you prefer:

1. eighth notes, 4/4, beamed on quarter or half beats?

2. eighth notes, 4/4, beamed for every time a figure starts?

3. Constant time signature changes?

4. Quarter notes with a stupid fast tempo?

No score yet (because of this), but if you imagine, for instance, left hand going CDEFCDEFCDEFCDEF and right hand going CDECDECDECDE and other person’s left going CDEFGCDEFGCDEFG and right going CDCDCDCD, you’ll get the idea.


They both replied, almost immediately, that they prefer eighth notes beamed on quarters.

A few months back, I asked a similar question to Richard Valitutto while I was working on a piece for gnarwhallaby. Here’s the phrase in question:


To which he replied:

yo! 4/4 with appropriately placed syncopated accents is almost always preferable, especially for ensemble music. leave beams as pictured, if that’s the question – that us, beamed to the quarter-note beat, not the changing pulse grouping. thanks for checking. looks fun already! (btw, fast like q=144 or fast like q=176?)

So – same answer. Beam in the way that’s easy to count, use accents or simply the line to highlight cross rhythms.

Neat. On to some electronics.


All material copyright Nick Norton unless otherwise noted.