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Thread: Counting Without a Score. Where is the accented beat?

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    Default Counting Without a Score. Where is the accented beat?

    Throughout music history there have been pieces that start on an unaccented beat and my mind tends to want to make that the downbeat or accented beat until I realize something is askew and I have to do a mental flip or catching up to be in synch with the music. The most famous example might be one of the Bourrees from Handel's Water Music. (In this example the performers go out of their way to insure that first note sounds unaccented, but I've heard a lot more confusing versions.)

    I actually love that feeling of slight momentary confusion most of the time, however today I was browsing Beethoven's String Quartet No. 6 and found the third movement may have this same effect so pronounced I'm unable to even count the time. Without a score I am completely lost in the rhythm. What is this? 6/8 starting on an unaccented note? 9/8? 4/4 with some kind of triplet involved? Heavy syncopation? I'm lost.

    Wouldn't this have given the listeners great consternation at the time or is this confusion just something I'm prone to?

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    Try the Scherzo of Mahler's Sixth, where the accented beats in the timpani don't line up with those in the orchestra (the first hit is on an upbeat). The trio presents even more tricky irregularities!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Weston View Post
    Throughout music history there have been pieces that start on an unaccented beat and my mind tends to want to make that the downbeat or accented beat until I realize something is askew and I have to do a mental flip or catching up to be in synch with the music. The most famous example might be one of the Bourrees from Handel's Water Music. (In this example the performers go out of their way to insure that first note sounds unaccented, but I've heard a lot more confusing versions.)

    I actually love that feeling of slight momentary confusion most of the time, however today I was browsing Beethoven's String Quartet No. 6 and found the third movement may have this same effect so pronounced I'm unable to even count the time. Without a score I am completely lost in the rhythm. What is this? 6/8 starting on an unaccented note? 9/8? 4/4 with some kind of triplet involved? Heavy syncopation? I'm lost.

    Wouldn't this have given the listeners great consternation at the time or is this confusion just something I'm prone to?
    So the quartet movement is a lively 3/4, but I could understand if you thought it was 6/8. The way I can tell it isn't is that in 6/8 is that what would be beat 4 is weaker than what would be beat 1 in that meter. This isn't how the quartet sounds so it is likely in 3/4. When you are trying to work out the rhythm of a piece like this the first thing is to start patting along with the pulse on your leg or something. Then, when you are sure you have the pulse, start placing emphasis where you hear emphasis. You then have a pattern of accented and unaccented beats from which you can decide if it is triple or duple. Hearing out for compound meter can be tricky: just remember that the groupings in compound meter will generally follow a accented/unaccented pattern themselves in classical music circa 1760-1850. Something that might be confusing you in this piece is the hemiolas when there is an approach to a cadence. This is very common, and you can use the feeling of the rhythm changing as a sign post that the phrase is coming to an end.

    There are some very tricky pieces out there, but the general rule is to follow your intuition. As far as listening goes, knowing if it is duple or triple is all you need

    Hope this helps!

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    Senior Member Weston's Avatar
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    It must be the hemiola that's throwing me off. I'll try to download the score before listening next time, if I can remember. I'll give the Mahler another listen too. I love those kinds of rhythmic acrobatics.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Weston View Post
    Throughout music history there have been pieces that start on an unaccented beat and my mind tends to want to make that the downbeat or accented beat until I realize something is askew and I have to do a mental flip or catching up to be in synch with the music. The most famous example might be one of the Bourrees from Handel's Water Music. (In this example the performers go out of their way to insure that first note sounds unaccented, but I've heard a lot more confusing versions.)

    I actually love that feeling of slight momentary confusion most of the time, however today I was browsing Beethoven's String Quartet No. 6 and found the third movement may have this same effect so pronounced I'm unable to even count the time. Without a score I am completely lost in the rhythm. What is this? 6/8 starting on an unaccented note? 9/8? 4/4 with some kind of triplet involved? Heavy syncopation? I'm lost.

    Wouldn't this have given the listeners great consternation at the time or is this confusion just something I'm prone to?
    If you think you're confused now, try the opening of Beethoven's string quartet in Eb, Op. 127. First listen to it, then look at the score. You won't believe it! Ludwig certainly meant to jerk us around - yet the music sounds great no matter how you hear it. His late works have quite a few rhythmic oddities.

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    If you want help recognizing changes in meter a good guide is textural and form function. In this example the slow introduction gives way to the main theme and that marks a change between duple and triple meter. In other pieces the texture might also change. For later music where free permutations of additive meters comes into play, it becomes much more tricky.

    Thank you Wookduck for the interesting example!

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    Go have a look at the first movement of Brahms 1. Beyond the introduction, almost nothing seems to start on the first beat of the bar. You watch the piece live, you'd swear the conductor and orchestra are half a bar apart the whole way through.
    cheers,
    Graeme

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