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Music timing in all it's weirdness

You know, it really ought to be simple. A simple piece of music has three things:
  • A tempo, expressed in beats per minute.
  • A time signature, explaining how the piece is divvied up.
  • Notation, something to play.

The time signature is that bit seen at the beginning. It's usually a little four on top of another four. This can be expressed in text as 4/4. Note that it is not a fraction.


The top number tells you how many beats are in a bar (also frequently known as a measure). This makes no difference to the speed of playing the music, but it does affect how the music is stressed.
For example, a 3/4 is a waltz or three beats to a bar, and the beat of that is like dum-da-da dum-da-da, while a lot of generic pop music is 4/4 which is four beats to a bar and is like dum-da-da-da dum-da-da-da.

In the latter (4/4) case, you'll be able to easily hear this in a lot of pop music. Simply wave your hand gently to pick out the beat (that's easy, humans are equipped with sensorimotor synchronisation which is why we can dance and cats can't), and you'll quickly be able to tell which is the first as it is typically emphasised in some way (often like boom-tap-tap-tap on the percussion).
Note that this doesn't apply to symphonic metal, prog rock, or anything that's trying to be showy as, well, they tend to like using unusual timings, like say seven beats to a bar, odd meter, or varying the time signature.


The bottom number tells you the 'size' of a beat. It is typically 2, 4, or 8.

To understand what this means, we need to look at the different types of notes commonly used. The number below each note is how many would fit into a bar at 4/4.

On the left, the doughnut with no tail is a semibreve (a whole note in American), which lasts for four beats.
Next along, the doughnut with a tail, is a minim (a half note in American), which lasts for two beats.
In the middle, the first filled-in one, is a crotchet (a quarter note in American), which lasts for one beat.
Moving along, if you add a single hook to the tail, it's a quaver (an eighth note in American), which lasts for half a beat.
Finally on the right, two hooks is a semiquaver (a sixteenth note in American), which lasts for a quarter of a beat.

Here are the different types, and their relationship to each other. Each bar would all play for the same duration.


Now here comes the complication. If you specify 2/2 as the time signature, than this means that your beat is every minim and that there are two in a bar. So a bar would look like the fourth line down.
And if you specify 8/8 as a time signature, then your beat would be a quaver, and there will be eight of them in a bar. So a bar would look like the second line down.

The thing is, as it is commonly understood, these will all play at the same speed. Because for some reason the time signature is a completely different thing to the tempo.


Excuse me? The lower number is literally specifying what a beat is. If the beat is a minim, then the music ought to play twice as fast as twice as many bars will pass in order to get through 120 minims in a minute. Likewise, if the beat is a quaver, then the music ought to play half as quickly as there will be fewer bars necessary to have 120 quavers.


Well, the truth is that somewhere along the way (about the 18th century, I think?) this became disassociated, so what a time signature now says is: this is how many counts in a bar, and this is what a count is.
While I have used the word "beats" above (as that's what I was taught), it's perhaps better to think in "counts" rather than "beats".

The tempo, expressed in beats (not counts) is indicated by explicitly specifying what it refers to, like:

𝅗𝅥 = 120
𝅘𝅥 = 120
𝅘𝅥𝅮 = 120
The top says a beat is a minim, the middle says a beat is a crotchet, and the lower says a beat is a quaver.
If nothing is specified, a crotchet is assumed.


I dunno. I can't quite get my head around changing a piece of music from 2/2 to 4/4 to 6/8 and having it play for the exact same duration. But, well, that's how it is. 🤷‍♀️


For completeness, I should point out that there are other sorts of notes than those shown:

  • Large / larga / Maxima / Octuple whole note
    This lasts for thirty two (sometimes forty eight?) crotchets, and was used a lot in the 13th/14th centuries but is now obsolete.
  • Long / longa / Quadruple whole note
    This lasts for sixteen or twenty four crotchets (depends upon the mode of the piece) and was used in the 12th/13th centuries but isn't used these days.
  • Breve / Double whole note
    This lasts for eight crotchets. It's name actually means "brief" as it was one of the shortest notes in use in medieval music. Damn - they'd be unable to cope with metal. ☺
  • Semibreve to semiquaver - commonly used and known notes.
  • Demisemiquaver / Thirty-second note
    This lasts for half the time of a semiquaver, or eight per crotchet.
    To put this into context, at 120bpm a crotchet represents half a second, so a demisemiquaver is sixteenth of a second.
  • Hemidemisemiquaver / Sixty-fourth note
    There are sixteen per crotchet.
  • Semihemidemisemiquaver / Quasihemidemisemiquaver / Hundred twenty-eighth note
    Rare, because there are thirty two per crotchet. I suspect the reason this note exists is for transcribing stuff like sliding the hand down a piano.
  • Demisemihemidemisemiquaver / Two hundred fifty-sixth note

There are others, MuseScore supports a 1024th note, Finale supports a 4096th note, and LilyPond supports a 1073741824th note (that's with 28 hooks on the tail!). That last one would be, what, a hemidemisemihemidemisemihemidemisemihemidemisemihemidemisemihemidemisemihemidemisemihemidemisemihemidemisemiquaver? I can't help but feel that they did it "because they could" rather than because it's actually used. I mean, think about the timing of that...


Soggy holiday

I'm glad we weren't given the usual summer holiday (the last week of July and the first two weeks of August) as, well, the weather has been unfortunate.

It's sunny right now, but early afternoon I went out and moved the bits of wood chopped off the buddleia down to the wood pile, and it was drizzling gently. All in all, a rather damp holiday weekend, and a rather damp holiday if I had had these past three weeks. Okay, some days have been hot, we touched 30°C but it was overcast and humid. Great for the biting bugs.

That's not to say that my holiday (in a month) mightn't suck, but there's a whole month for it to improve. Or maybe get even worse, I know what my luck is like.


I'm going to brew up some linguine, and then head to bed with that and some home-made brownies (at 7pm) to watch a couple of episodes of Alice. It's a Korean television series that I've been on-and-off watching and, well, it's leaving Netflix at the end of the month so I guess I'd better be more on than off if I want to know how the story progresses. As is common with Korean series, there are quite a number of episodes (16 in this case) and they're long (an hour long).

Speaking of Netflix, I have also watched the first episode of a new Japanese series called Pending Train. Is this an eastern remake of an old (1999) ITV series called The Last Train?
It's on YouTube.

Unfortunately, there's no love for a slightly more recent series called Demons starring that bloke from Ashes to Ashes as a hammy-as-hell demon hunter. It was kind of dumb, but it amused me. And, well, it looks like episode 2 is on Dailymotion. And that's it. No DVDs, no other uploads. Nothing on YouTube except trailers. Hmmm...?

Anyway, the pasta is cooking so...



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C Ferris, 15th August 2023, 20:54
Rick have you thought about writing for one of the Arc mags?
Anon, 16th August 2023, 12:55
Notes of very short duration like you described are normally "grace notes", or sometimes "slip notes". Floyd Cramer was the master of slip note piano. 
To get an idea of what I'm on about, play a Csus4 chord then immediately "roll" the finger on the top note of the chord up a full tone to make a second inversion F chord. Basically: 
C-F-G > C-F-E 
Play that twice whilst playing an F in the bass with your left hand, then come down a fifth (so Gsus4 > C second inversion) whilst moving your left hand from the F down the C. You've just played the first couple of bars of a cliched country & western intro. 
Anyway, the highest note of the chord (the one you 'roll' up to the next full tone) is probably about a 16th note (the starting note, not the one you roll to). If that makes sense. 
If it doesn't - well that's probably because this is the first time I've had to actually write down HOW you play 'slip note'. And whilst I can read music, I can't sight-read, and I tend to play either from just a chord chart or entirely from memory. 
As an aside, that 'slip note' style of piano was made popular by the aforementioned Floyd Cramer in response to the use of pedal steel guitar in country music. For those not 'in the know', a pedal steel is normally tuned to E9 and played with a bar (the 'steel' - a bit like a Hawiian guitar). But unlike a Hawaiian guitar, with a pedal steel you can change the 'shape' of the chord by pressing down on one of 3 foot pedals to raise or lower certain strings. Do this whilst moving the bar and you can get some fairly amazing effects. 
Rick - you like 80s music, right? Check out Paul Young's "Everything Must Change", there's a great pedal steel solo on that, just before the chorus.
David Pilling, 16th August 2023, 18:21
Interesting about musical notation - they attempted to teach it at school - I could not take it in - like much else they did not try very hard and neither did I. Which leaves me totally unmusical. 
Ah but then you want to be a Rock Star... 
I imagine these days one can get a piece of software and experiment with changing things to see how they work. 
Rick, 16th August 2023, 18:42
David, we're depressingly close to simply saying "Hey, AI, make me a rock song". 
Anon, 16th August 2023, 22:53
And we'll hide out in the private rooms 
With the latest dictionary, and today's who's who 
They'll get you anything with that evil smile 
Everybody's got a drug dealer on speed dial, well 
Hey, hey, I wanna be a rockstar 
I'm gonna sing those songs that offend the censors 
Gonna pop my pills from a Pez dispenser 
I'll get washed-up singers writing all my songs 
Lip sync 'em every night, so I don't get 'em wrong 
(Apologies, but that was the first thing that went through my head when I read Rick's last comment!)
Rob, 17th August 2023, 13:21
I can read music and pick out a tune in a keyboard, thanks to piano lessons I had whilst in infants, about age 4-6. It helped, a little, when daughter was learning violin some 40 years later, though I'm a bit deficient in technical details, so this was a useful read!
VinceH, 17th August 2023, 18:28
I hadn't spotted Alice on NetFlix, but it looks like something I'd enjoy so I've now added it to my list. I obviously need to get it watched pronto if it's leaving at the end of the month, so as soon as I've finished what I'm watching at the mo (just one episode left) I'll dive straight in with that one. 
What I'm watching is Zombieverse, which is an interesting way to approach 'reality' TV - and is unexpectedly entertaining. A group of S.Korean (and one Japanese) celebs are dropped into a fictional setting whereby Seoul has become overrun with zombies, and the series follows them as they try to survive - so for their parts it's entirely unscripted (though there must be an element of direction), and if I've got the gist right at the start they didn't know the setting was going to be a zombie apocalypse. 
Some of them take it a bit more seriously than others - though not always, so at times things just get silly, but remains entertaining. 
The effort and expense put into it, given that it's basically a reality show (FSVO 'reality') is second to none. 
There was a British show a few years ago that put a group of contestants in a zombie apocalypse setting, giving them 'missions' to complete to progress through the series. It was rubbish - and IIRC at the time I described it basically as an extended game of tag. 
When I started watching Zombieverse, that show sprang to mind and biased me against this, but by the second episode I realised it was wiping the floor with the British show. 
Now. Last episode... ;) 
Rick, 17th August 2023, 20:46
It's a shame that there are those who would run in horror from a foreign subtitled production because, well, quite a number of these Korean dramas are actually pretty good. 
There are a few tropes, of course. 
* Like melodrama is rife because, well, it's Asian. Expect to see grown men cry and women beating everyone up. 
* Speaking of which, definite values dissonance when it comes to physical violence - particularly teachers towards students and bosses towards employees. 
* How many times does an episode of something end with a song (that probably exactly fits what is going on, but the lyrics are subbed so I don't know) and sort of slightly faded freeze frames? 
* They're slow burn for sure. Alice is about sixteen hours (16 x hour long episodes). For us westerners, that means an actual hour, not 45 minutes because of advert breaks. 
* Parents, especially the mothers, are not only overbearing, but disapproving to near-psychopathic levels. 
* Funny how often "amnesia" is a plot device. 
I'm quite sure, also, that a bunch of pop star/idol types also get important roles, but since I don't know any of them, this would be missed on me. The last time I saw a singer I knew in an Asian drama, it was Chihiro Onitsuka _singing_ the end theme of the drama series Trick... which was so off the wall (in a drama-comedy that was already a bit crazy) that I nearly spat my tea clear across the room. 
Rick, 17th August 2023, 20:52
To be fair, British TV shows try to be inventive on a remarkably small budget. 
And, yeah, it often shows. Let's see... Doctor Who is a good example. As is Torchwood. And the series Demons that I mentioned. Plus The Last Train. And so on. 
Basically pick any sci-fi series that was made by/for broadcast TV without outside help and it might be good but there will be ways of noting the lack of budget. 
Torchwood got quite a budget bump at the end (Miracle Day), but then it was a co-production with Starz that time around. 
VinceH, 18th August 2023, 01:56
Yup. Nothing at all wrong with subtitles. If it's good, I tend to automatically tune out the fact I'm reading them. 
And Korea can definitely come up with the goods - as they have with Alice. I'm two episodes in, and it's one of those where I'm going to have to force myself not to binge it if I want to get stuff done. Although at the same time I have to watch it all before the end of the month, but thanks to your blog I've discovered it early enough to balance that out okay. 
(I'm so glad I chose to look here when I did!)
C Ferris, 18th August 2023, 09:50
With ref to English subtitles - it would be nice if they were under the picture - instead of plonked over it.
Anon, 18th August 2023, 13:00
Speaking of budgets, did anybody watch the TV adaption of His Dark Materials? (I don't mean the butchered atrocity that was The Golden Compass, I mean the long-form TV version.) 
I have to say I was impressed. It stuck pretty closely to the source material, in fact I believe Philip Pullman was involved with the TV adaption. 
Not sure what the budget was, but at a guess I'd say "pretty high". It looked cinematic, massive budgets, massive sets, so much detail. 
The only thing I would say is that a lot of it may not make sense if you haven't read the books.
Rick, 18th August 2023, 13:25
Anon - co-production with HBO. 
And yes, it looked good. 
JGH, 19th August 2023, 04:25
Plus almost any science drama documentary made for UK TV. I'm currently watching Horizon's Oppenheimer from 1980 on BBC4. Goes into the science and the personalities of the participants quite well, but the budget is obvious. Most of the scenes seem like bottle plays, and whenever General Groves is travelling by train the carriage is rock steady and the scenary outside doesn't move!
VinceH, 20th August 2023, 12:24
The start of episode 9. ROT13'd to avoid spoilers if anyone else is watching and hasn't reached this episode yet: Nccneragyl gur ybpngvba genpxre pna fraq vgf fvtany guebhtu gvzr. 
If the genpxre had been used early in the series, and was able to do what it did here, I would've considered the whole thing a pile of poo. (But probably persevered anyway.) 
This far into it, the fact that it's been so good up to this point sort of drives me to make allowances - but at the same time, because it's been so good until now makes this stupidity even more annoying.
Rick, 20th August 2023, 13:09
Yes, that one jumped out at me too. 
Another one that annoyed me was in an earlier episode when the professor was talking about time, saying that if he was hit by a car and is driven to invent time travel so he could go back in time and warn himself about the car... 
...which is all good until you realise that if he gets the warning and avoids the car, he still always has to be the one to invent time travel in order to always go back and warn himself about the car... otherwise he'll be hit by it. 
It's a paradox. 
But, then, the amount of screwing around in time with only a weird rash as a potential consequence, it's a bit ridiculous. 
Just as well, as you say, it's a good series so one can overlook the little errors done for dramatic licence (like the post it notes on the wall, not to mention the horrible continuity in that scene as to what was actually stuck on the wall and when).
Rick, 20th August 2023, 13:16
Oh, and did you notice that they are *blurring* potentially offensive things? 
Go back to where the woman gets attacked by the long haired guy (start of ep7) where he draws that weird equation on her wall in blood. 
Lying on the floor is the dead pet. 
Conspicuously blurred, especially when there is a brief cut to a close-up of it for the reaction shot. 😂 
Elsewhere when this long haired guy turns up, he is often carrying a knife. Which is blurred. 
Yet, oddly, they don't appear to blur guns, wounds, or blood. 🤔
VinceH, 20th August 2023, 13:46
Yeah, I've spotted things like that. 
That talk by the prof about averting his own accident IIRC was around the same time (might even have been the same episode) that (ROT13'd) gur byqre jbzna xvyyrq gur lbhatre irefvba bs urefrys - on top of which gur xvyyre jub unq uvf sbbg phg bss va rcvfbqr 1 naq vf fhofrdhragyl ynathvfuvat va cevfba unf fvapr orra xvyyrq cevbe gb gung unccravat. 
The explanation has been given (as part of that prof's talk) and referenced a few times since, though perhaps not examined or given quite enough disposition (e.g. Det. Park should probably have noticed and questioned that aspect of those events). 
Another slight annoyance is that there are a couple of elements that remind me if things in my unfinished comedy time travel novel. 😁 
Rick, 20th August 2023, 15:56
<decodes ROT13> 
Yeah, that's what I meant about little errors for dramatic reasons. 
Enjoy the story, don't look too closely at the details...
Rick, 20th August 2023, 16:02
My phone has a larger than 16:9 display, so it can zoom up Alice (and other cinematic aspect content) to mostly fill the screen. Where would the subtitles go? 
If they're at the bottom of the picture, then whatever the display device and aspect they ought to be visible. Just like how it has always been (except that very brief time when people watched widescreen content on old style square televisions), but even then subtitles were usually on-screen as the black bars above and below were simply not used. 
(the exception being a teletext subtitle overlay, but then it was the TV itself doing that; and it would be overlaying the picture on a widescreen TV) 
Rick, 20th August 2023, 16:06
There was an Italian horror movie on The Horror Channel many years ago that chopped off a big bit of the bottom of the image to give space for the subtitles. I'll paste the image below...
Rick, 22nd August 2023, 09:24
I've just finished episode 12 of Alice and... 
Vg'f fgnegvat gb trg n ovg evqvphybhf gur ahzore bs lbhatre fryirf qlvat va gur cerfrapr bs, be npghnyyl orvat xvyyrq ol, gurve gvzr geniryyvat byqre fryirf. Pna nalobql fnl "cnenqbk cvyrhc"? 
VinceH, 26th August 2023, 14:20
Nf V uvagrq ng orsber gurl'ir fbeg bs rkcynvarq njnl gurfr cnenqbkrf ol fhttrfgvat zhygvcyr qvzrafvbaf v.r jura lbh punatr fbzrguvat vg perngrf n sbex va gvzr naq gurersber gb cnenyyry havirefrf/qvzrafvbaf/gvzryvarf tbvat sbejneq. Guvf vf n abafrafr orpnhfr gur znff/raretl sbe gur frpbaq sbex gb rkvfg jurer gurer jnf abguvat orsber vf whfg urnq rkcybqvatyl vapbaprvinoyr, ohg vg'f abg na hapbzzba gebcr. 
Ubjrire, gurl qba'g frrz gb or pbafvfgrag jvgu vg va Nyvpr. 
********* IMPORTANT ********** 
Va gur ynfg rcvfbqr gurl fhccbfrqyl erfbyirq rirelguvat. Gur zbgure vf xvyyrq naq gur byqre irefvba bs Cnex vf xvyyrq, ng juvpu cbvag nyy bs gur gvzr geniry furanavtnaf ner haeniryrq naq gur gvzryvar vf erfrg. 
Rkprcg gung vg rzretrf gung ur vf fgvyy obea, ohg gnxrf n qvssrerag cngu va yvsr. Gung jbhyq or svar vs abg sbe gur snpg nygubhtu ur jnf obea va 1992, uvf zbgure jnf sebz gur shgher univat geniryyrq gb gung lrne. 
Ba gbc bs gung jr yrneag cnegjnl guebhtu gur frevrf gung uvf zbgure'f bja zbgure jnf nyfb n gvzr geniryre jub unq erznvarq va gur cnfg naq riraghnyyl xvyyrq. 
Gurersber n erfrg gvzryvar zrnaf arvgure ur abe fur fubhyq erznva. 
Nabgure boivbhf ceboyrz vf gung gur zbgure vf xvyyrq ng n cbvag va ure crefbany gvzryvar nsgre fur jnf erfcbafvoyr sbe npuvrivat gvzr geniry. Xvyyvat ure ng gung cbvag gurersber jbhyqa'g punatr nalguvat. 
Fvzvyneyl xvyyvat gur byqre irefvba bs Cnex jbhyqa'g erfrg nalguvat orpnhfr ng gung cbvag va uvf bja crefbany gvzryvar ur unf nyernql qbar gur guvatf gung unir orra erfrg. 
Va obgu pnfrf gb erfrg nalguvat gurl arrq gb or xvyyrq rneyvre va gurve gvzryvarf guna gur guvatf gurl'er vaibyirq va gung ner erfrg. 
That's actually really pissed me off. 🤬 
Rick, 26th August 2023, 17:58
V gbgnyyl nterr. 
Vg'f ohyyfuvg gb erfrg ol xvyyvat gur byqre irefvba. V zrna, gung'f yvxr gelvat gb fgbc JJ2 ol qrfrpengvat Uvgyre'f tenir, vg'f cbvagyrffyl fghcvq. 
Bu, naq jurer qvq gur lbhatre frys tb jura gur byqre naq napvrag fryirf jrer nethvat nobhg uvf zbz? Naq jul qvqa'g gur byqvr whfg fubbg ure va gur jbzo jura ur jrag onpx gb 1992? 
Naq gura V jnf eraqrerq tbofznpxrq va qvforyvrs ng ubj gur zbz naq grrantre fgvyy rkvfgrq, qrfcvgr gur snpg gung - nf lbh fnl - fur GVZR GENIRYYRQ gb gung gvzr NAQ obgu bs uvf cneragf jrer gvzr geniryyref. 
Vg trgf jbefr. Uvf nqhyg frys, bayl univat fbeg bs ivfvbaf bs guvatf gung ur qenjf, jnyxf evtug cnfg n jbzna jub ybbxf RKNPGYL yvxr uvf zbgure. JGS? 
V'z nsenvq "Oynpx" jnf n ovg yvxr guvf. N tbbq, fbyvq, frg bs rcvfbqrf gung raq jvgu n abafrafvpny zrybqenzngvp svanyr gung zvtug nccrny gb Xberna nhqvraprf ohg onfvpnyyl yrsg zr guvaxvat "jryy, gung jnf n ovg bs n fuvg raqvat". 
Naq, V fjrne gb tbq (gurl nyy frrzrq gb or fbzr fbeg bs Puevfgvna, fb tbq jvyy fhssvpr) gung vs V frr nabgure punenpgre qrngu fvtanyyrq ol n unaq sybccvat gb gur sybbe. Teeee! Vg'f n ybat qrnq gebcr! 
Fb, svsgrra terng rcvfbqrf naq n cerqvpgnoyl penccl raqvat. 
Fgvyy, jbegu vg sbe gur svsgrra tbbq barf (rira vs gur cnenqbk cvyrhcf fgnegrq gb pehzoyr - abg gb zragvba gur raqyrff erq ureevatf bs rirelobql pnyyvat rirelobql ryfr Znfgre orpnhfr srj crbcyr npghnyyl xarj, be nal vaqvpngvba bs jurer gur Cebcurpl bevtvangrq be jul vg jnf qbar va gur fglyr bs n tencuvp abiry). 
Rick, 26th August 2023, 18:06
Next up, I see there's a new series of "The Uncanny Counter" (I quite liked the first series, and a second was commissioned because it was unexpectedly popular), there's also a new series of "Ragnarok", and there's even a new series of my no-thought-required "The Bureau of Magical Things" (for when it's been a horrible day at work and I just went to be entertained while comfort eating linguine). 
I should probably also finish "The Cursed" (watched two episodes) which was interesting but weird. 
Not enough hours in the day. ;)

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