minstrel: 12/8 time signature

Pat Yarrow yarrowp at mscd.edu
Thu Feb 2 11:31:17 PST 2006

Greetings, Robert.

That's exactly what 12/8 means.  It isn't 12 beats per measure, it's 4, with
each beat subdivided into triplets.  Similarly, 9/8 is three subdivided
beats per measure, and 6/8 is 2 subdivided beats.  It's what is referred to
as a compound time signature, and I wouldn't say that it's syncopated unless
the beat falls somewhere other than where it naturally would.  

Note:  9/8 in Middle Eastern music does not necessarily follow this
convention - Middle Eastern rhythms are additive, and karshlimar is a 9/8
that's divided quarter quarter quarter eighth eighth eighth.  There are also
some interesting additive rhythms in traditional Breton music, such as
11/16.  Don't try to turn them into compound rhythms unless they're clearly
divisible by 3, such as 15/8.


-----Original Message-----
From: minstrel-bounces at pbm.com [mailto:minstrel-bounces at pbm.com] On Behalf
Of warden
Sent: Thursday, February 02, 2006 11:04 AM
To: minstrel at pbm.com
Subject: minstrel: 12/8 time signature

Greetings to the list!

I have a question regarding time signatures in music.

I was listening to some Scot Joplin rag time a while ago while looking 
at the sheet music and noticed that the syncopation is written as 
triplets, in other words, a quarter note and an eighth note combined as 
a triplet for one beat.

Recently I heard a medieval song called "Da Que Deus Mamou" by Alfonso 
X, which has the same syncopated rhythm (although slower).  It was 
written in 12/8 time with alternating quarter notes and eighth notes for 
the fast part and dotted quarter notes for the slow part.  If I tap my 
foot really fast, I can do 12 beats to the measure, but I realized that 
rhythm is actually 4 triplets per measure. The natural foot tapping mode 
is 4 beats per measure with the dotted quarter note getting one beat.

So my question, is how best to describe this.  There doesn't seem to be 
a convention for this type of time signature except to write it as 12/8, 
which doesn't reflect one beat for the dotted quarter note.  The 
alternative is to write it out as triplets so that the quarter note gets 
one beat.

Any thoughts or comments appreciated!

Caer Galen
(Boulder, CO)

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