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I'm a mostly self-taught composer working on an opera that sets a prose text.  The time signatures change wildly to reflect speech rhythms.  I am writing it for now in piano/vocal with lots of instruments indicated textually.  I came to a measure where I have vocal line and bass accompaniment, but no treble  line.  The measure is in 13 32.  The treble line has a 16th note downbeat for a chord with the other lines.  I decided that for the rest of the measure, I wanted the treble line to be three steady pulses, all the same length, without a rest.  I think this may require a tuplet to write properly on the staff in the given time signature, but this is a moment where my training isn't up to the task I have in mind.  If anyone can help, I'd appreciate it.  There are tuplets throughout the score, but in this particular case, I'm having trouble measuring it out properly.

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Again, no I did not say I was having difficulty reading my own rhythms.  I attempted to teach myself piano many years ago, but only got so far.  The coordination was a problem for me, and my parents never got me piano lessons even though I begged for them.  They thought some video tapes would help me when what I really need was a coach. It has nothing to do with reading my own rhythms. 

Hi Scott,

I just had a quick look through this thread and I note the problem and the advice given which I found quite helpful. Because in my life I write a lot of text + vocal music to go with it, I familiarised myself from a very early age with some basic technical rules of poetry and prose and I wonder if I could help here.

Imo, the text is much easier to set when the poetry is metered, but this is not a golden rule. If the poetry is not metered then the text can be much like prose, as in your case.

Modern English, like most other modern languages is an accented one and the bulk of its words can take an accent in one of the three final syllables. That, (whether in prose or poetry), leaves us with only four natural choices - four basic poetic feet for any musical application, including technical analysis of rhythms:


IAMBUS:     (as in the word en-dure)    ♪

TROCHEE:   (as in the word fa-ther)    

DACTYL:      (as in the word pri-mi-tive)     ♪ ♪

ANAPAEST: (as in the word pha-ri-see)    ♪ ♪


There are a few other poetical feet also, but with the above we can analyse any text, poetry or prose, and we can combine them in lines and stanzas if so desired. The same combinations (and their variations) can be applied to music equally easily.

In dealing with a rhythmically complex prose text therefore the desired combinations (natural or less so) have to be applied as making life easier, and there is no need at all for 13/32 time signatures and the like. What is needed is frequent change of metre. 2/8, 3/8, 3+2/8, 3/8 = 13/8 (or whatever and whichever way your fancy takes you dictated by the natural rhythm of the text at hand).


Of the above four poetic feet I would like to call your attention to the last two, as far as English language is concerned.

Three-syllable anapaestic words are thought to be rarer in English than three-syllable dactylic words. imo, that is not so obvious. What is very obvious to me is that these words are pronounced and accented wrongly by the average English speaker, to the extent that they tend to become recognized as rules now a days. In this way all 3-syllable words (usually from other languages) that are anapaestic by nature, become dactylic in pronunciation. Like Ci-tro-en = Ci-tro-en, or un-der-go = un-der-go. Some of these misapprehensions can be excusable in setting to music, but some others cannot, imho.


Another feature of English language which usually I find versatile and freer when setting to music, although it can be very frustrating at times, is its use of monosyllables containing two vowels. We must always bear in mind that although these words usually contain a diphthong, if this diphthong  is not to be pronounced as such, then these words become two-syllable ones to most continental European ears.

Therefore, to me the word "day", sounds always like a two syllable word, despite what modern English grammar has to say about it, but in setting it to music I can regard it either as a monosyllable or two-syllable word. It works both ways.

Remember also that the present confusion about pronunciation of vowels in English is a relatively new phenomenon (about 400 years old) and before that time English used to be pronounced as written, like most other Greco-Latin generated European languages.


I hope I have been of help in clarifying a little various poetic feet, if nothing else.


Seriously, it seems like no one wants to answer my question, just attack the premise, not to say that there is nothing useful in these responses.

Thank you to Socrates, especially.  That may be very useful to me, but not necessarily in this case.

so you have 13 - 32nd notes to be divided by 3.. easy.. Each one being a third - would be an 8th note plus 1/3 of a 32nd note - which would be a 1/96th note..  (as One of the 32nd notes must be divided by 3 - and then added to all 3 eighths)

so an 8th note tied to a 1/96th note, played 3x = 13/32  ..  so, that's it. players will love it.

If you want to make a tuplet, I suppose a dotted 8th would be the obvious roundoff.

Makes perfect sense, Gregorio!

32/3 = 10,6667 demi-semi quavers

If we turn some of these demi-semis (or whatever) to 32nd note triplets and tie them to the rest (or untie them, as the case may be, I see no problem :-) )

gregorio X said:

so you have 13 - 32nd notes to be divided by 3.. easy.. Each one being a third - would be an 8th note plus 1/3 of a 32nd note - which would be a 1/96th note..  (as One of the 32nd notes must be divided by 3 - and then added to all 3 eighths)

so an 8th note tied to a 1/96th note, played 3x = 13/32  ..  so, that's it. players will love it.

If you want to make a tuplet, I suppose a dotted 8th would be the obvious roundoff.

Here's the thing.

Notation is based on exact subdivisions. Music is fluid. Not at all exact. People have been giving you suggestions on how to deal with a problem of your own makeing. Let them help you. No one is attacking your premise. If you let yourself get bogged down by a 32nd note, what hope is there when a real problem comes up. Believe it or not, there are rhythms that can not be notated.


I must say it's beyond me that you should want to write music with such complex rhythms simply to match the pulse and articulation of the prose...what about recitative? (I'm sure you know what that means but, in case anyone's unsure, it can be described thus: musical declamation of the kind usual in the narrative and dialogue parts of opera and oratorio, sung in the rhythm of ordinary speech with many words on the same note.

That would go some way towards solving the principal problem as I see it i.e. how on earth is any performer going to be able to read such complex stuff, and how is any conductor going to keep the thing together....have you ever tried conducting a sequence in 2 8, 9 16, 2 4, 3 8, 4 4, 9 8, 2 4, 6 8, 9 16, 13 32, 3 16, 15 16, 21 16, 25 16, 4 4, 13 8, 3 8, 3 4, 4 4, 3 4, 2 4, 3 4, 23 16, 17 16, 9 8, 5 4, 19 16, 2 4, 4 4, - somewhat exhausting for the brain and in my view totally impractical....where will you find people willing or able to perform it?

Have you tried looking at Handel, Wagner and other operatic composers to see how they get round the problem in the most natural, uncomplicated and highly musical fashion?

Maybe I'm missing the point here and, if so, I apologise unreservedly.....but to me it seems a no-brainer: simplify the rhythms and incorporate recitative.

All the best,


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