Little Time Troubles Untangled

By Laura Remick Copp

The object of this little sketches not to deal with intricate rhythm nor abstruse problems in time, but to call attention merely to a few little time difficulties, that are “catchy” instead of deep and often prove a stumbling block, not only to the one, who is helping himself, but oftentimes to the conscientious and thorough student, e.g. the open measure, at the end of the line. A fine pupil in one far advanced was literally “held up” on the time of the 11th Listz Rhapsodie and that before she had finished the first line, because she said she couldn’t figure out the time of the second measure. When the fact that, contrary to the usual custom, it was not enclosed by a bar at the end of the line and was call to attention, she laughed to herself and the passage thought to be difficult was clear as day. Printers usually plan the setting up of a composition so the bars will close all the lines regularly, when a good many notes filled the measure it is sometimes impossible to put it entirely on the same line, hence it is left open and the rest follows on the line below. Other examples are found elsewhere Listz, and the twelfth rhapsodie and others, in the Liszt transcription of the Chopin Polish song, Meine Freuden, and for technique Kohler, Op. 128.

When is a Triplet Not a Triplet?

Another “catch” – when is a triplet not a triplet? Or in other words, how to tell whether three note slurred together or triplets or not. And measure eighty-one of Shumann’s Novelette in F, the last three notes in the measure slurred together do not form a triplet, but our 38 notes with full value, as can readily be told by counting: two quarters proceed and 1/8, which needs 3/8 to complete the measure, but these eight lead into a measure (the next one), which has three slurred notes that really are a triplet. So, also, in the Chopin Mazurka Op. Seven, No. Three (measure 65),


the three notes appearing together or not a triplet and the fact that they are slurred does not indicate this, as accounts could not probably be taken care of considering them as such. Of course, if all triplets were marked three indicate that they make one count, it would be less confusing, but the necessary is more often omitted then inserted, hence the difficulty. The only way to determine accurately is to count the rest of the measure. The figure 3, when it is given, is put in different type to avoid confusion with the fingering.

A triplet may be formed of notes of any value and, also, of rests or of notes and rest together, e.g. three equal notes, either three quarters, 38, 3/16, etc. may equal a triplet: or, something equivalent in value to three quarters, 3/8, or 3/16 may equal a triplet, for instance, a quarter note and an eighth may form a triplet, the quarter being able to 2/8 in the whole the same as 3/8, or half note and a quarter may form a triplet, being equivalent to three-quarter notes, as occurs in Heller Studies. In Indian Idyl, McDowell, (Ex. 2) a quarter in an eighth comprise the triplet.

Beethoven Sonata (example 3) Op 22 is another example of rest being used in triplet groups, also, Listz B minor Sonata,


which last, also, illustrates 2/8 and 3/8 in the same hand the same time. The matter rhythm must be closely watched and playing triplet, as it is one of the little elegance ease of piano playing to make the notes of exactly the proper length and connect them well with what follows.

When all of the different voices to not enter on the same count some pupils experience difficulty in knowing when to come in. Heller Op. 47 offers a wide field of time examples. Of this sort.


In study No. 3 (measure 15) the soprano enters alone and is a dotted quarter, but that fact must not delay the alto too long, as the eighth rest is what determines the entrance of alto and the dotted quarter has nothing to do with it. Each voice must be counted by itself and many time difficulties will be eliminated, if the simple rules practical. Sometimes rest do duty for more than one voice, but as a rule each voice has its own counting just as in vocal music and the time can easily be followed.


Etude No. 7 (measure one), is an example of this principle. The other voices must not be delayed because the soprano enters first and alone, the dotted quarter and half note in the respective measures do not determine the time of entrance of the other voices, but the eighth and quarter rest preceding the secondary voices.

Notes That Represent To Values

When a note represents to values and must be counted according to its other value in another voice one more stumbling block is discovered. The measure 19 of No. 12


half note B, has really to value; in the alto, it is a dotted half, and the soprano, is an eighth, which is easily proved by counting each voice. But someone queries, “and eight note is black, this one is white, how can that be?” Musical notation is not perfect by any means, and just as we have no adequate way of marking the use of the panel, just so the union of two voices on one note cannot be accurately indicated as regards time. The best that can be done at present is to give the note to stems, one up, the other down, to indicate is to values into different voices. How many a teacher has had pupils bump notes on evenly this should be flowing along each is long and no longer than the other, just because one note was dotted. One shouldn’t count each boy separately and independently to determine when the other voices enter and how long each should be held.

Separate the Voices

Another suggestion: count horizontally and not vertically; that will necessitate counting each voice alone. A child’s trick is to play the notes together that are printed under each other; of course, in most cases this works out correctly, as a almost always are so written when possible, but sometimes is not the case, so horizontal counting should be insisted upon. For instance, these notes are not written directly under each other, but are meant to be struck at the same time.


Any two notes coming directly together on the staff, one in a space and one on a line or vice versa can never appear directly under each other, as they would blur and neither could be discriminated, so one must be written on one side of the stem and the other on the other side or each must have a separate stem but they come together as far as time is concerned.

This manner accounting is not merely a mechanical device making only for correctness of time division good rhythm, but, also, for artistic piano playing. In Song, from Sea Pieces by McDowell is absolutely necessary to keep the voices separate and well counted, so as not to overshadow the single melody notes with the octaves, which belong to the accompaniment.


Separate voice counting must decide too when these octaves are to be played. There is another occasion when the notes do not appears that they ought to be struck together, but they are, and this occurs in From a Wondering Iceberg – McDowell, measure six. The F sharp appearing beside the octave of B should be struck with that although appearances belie the fact.


The F sharp and G natural belong to the inner voice, which moves, and F sharp in the octave B are struck together on the first count, the octave A, an eighth, complete second count begun by octave B. This is another variation of the rule that notes must appear under each other are on the same stem, if they are to be played at the same time. A consciousness of different voices, their leadings and their counting individually gives not only a more correct interpretation as regards time and rhythm, but also aesthetic values.