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Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

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Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by agro1986 on Mon Oct 06, 2008 1:03 pm

Suppose I have a 2/8 piece consisting of 100 measures and it is supposed to be played at 200 bpm. As far as I know, bpm means beats per minute, and in 2/8 time signature an eighth note gets the beat. Therefore the whole piece has a time length of (100 measures) * ((2 eights) / measure) * ((1 minute) / (200 eights)) = 1 minute.

If my reasoning is correct, doesn't that mean that a 2/4 piece consisting of 100 measures at 200 bpm will also span 1 minute?

If that is so, it makes me wonder: why write in 2/8 instead of 2/4 or even 2/16, if the difference then is only on the particular note symbols used on the sheet?

Thanks a lot.
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by wamaral on Tue Oct 07, 2008 3:41 am

Well, being the very analytic person that I am, I cannot give you a convincing answer, since I tend to stick with the Math most of the time. To me there's no difference other than the symbols used.

Ok, so let's quote Wikipedia, as it knows more than me:

There is a sense in which all simple triple time signatures, be they 3/8, 3/4, 3/2 or anything else, and all compound duple times, such as 6/8, 6/16 and so on, are equivalent – a piece in 3/4 can be easily rewritten in 3/8 simply by halving the length of the notes. Sometimes, the choice of beat unit is simply down to tradition: the minuet, for example, is generally written in 3/4, and though examples in 3/8 do exist, a minuet in 3/2 would be highly unconventional.

At other times, the choice of beat unit (the bottom number of a time signature) note can give subtle hints as to the character of the music: for example, time signatures with a longer beat unit (such as 3/2) can be used for pieces in a quick tempo to convey a sense of the time flying by. This may be counter-intuitive, but in the Baroque and Classical periods, typically meters with long note values (such as 3/2) were fast tempos, while slow movements were typically written with the eighth note as the beat.

Similarly, a piece in 2/4 can often sound as if it is in 4/4 (or vice versa) and a piece in 3/4 can sound as if it is in 6 or 12 compound time, particularly if the former is played quickly or the latter slowly. The distinction may be a matter of notation.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_signature#Rewriting_meters


To illustrate, take this song (quite famous). It is written in 3/2. Listen to the sopranos (the voice that enters the third time, with "Quand je bois du vin claret..."). It is very fast, but on the sheet music it is written mostly with quarter notes. And the bass line uses only whole and half notes! (Tenor have 2 quarter notes in the whole sheet music, while Altos have 4 quarter notes)



Sheet music here (pdf): http://www.cipoo.net/downloads/scores/Tourdion.pdf


Compare that with, for example, Für Elise, which is written in 3/8, and considerably slower.
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by wamaral on Tue Oct 07, 2008 3:53 am

Oh well, video embed did not work... Here's the clickable link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_XHPtsONBOs

Oh, and by the way, please do not think that this statement is true:
Similarly, a piece in 2/4 can often sound as if it is in 4/4 (or vice versa) and a piece in 3/4 can sound as if it is in 6 or 12 compound time, particularly if the former is played quickly or the latter slowly. The distinction may be a matter of notation.
Coming from a country where a lot of songs are written in 2/4 (Bossa Nova and Samba, for instance), there is definitely a difference between 2/4 and 4/4. My teacher says there are schools in the United States (a country with very strong 4/4 musical culture) that teach Bossa Nova as 4/4, and it's definitely NOT the same thing! If you heard both versions you could instantly know that something's wrong with one of them. (Ok, sorry for the lack of technical details on this matter, but just believe me it's true) Laughing
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by wamaral on Tue Oct 07, 2008 3:59 am

And one more thing! (this is the last one, I promise) Laughing
Do not make the same mistake as I did:
There was this little piece (don't remember the name, but it's from Béla Bartók) that my Piano teacher brought me to play on class. It was in 2/2, and as I started playing it I thought: well, I'll just think 4/4 in my head as it's a lot easier to follow than 2/2.
When I finished, my teacher said: You were thinking in 4/4, weren't you?
I - like this Embarassed - said yes, then he said: Well, don't do it! Think 2/2, they're very different things!

Just to let you know anyway Laughing
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by agro1986 on Fri Oct 10, 2008 7:50 am

Wow thanks for the detailed explanation and sample song! Your anecdote was particularly interesting and mystical for a lack of better term.

However something puzzles me. I have this program Anvil Studio which has a metronome. I can set the tempo and time signature. If I set the tempo 100 and time signature 3/8, it will go like:

tick tock tock tick tock tock and so on...

However when I change it to 3/4 while keeping the tempo still, it goes:

tick... tock... tock... tick... tock... tock...

e.g., the beats are actually twice longer!

How can that be? Isn't the tempo (e.g., BEATs per minute) constant? No matter what the time signature is, the "ticks" should stay for the same time interval as long as I don't change the tempo, right? Does that mean all the calculations I did at the first post is wrong?

Thanks a lot.
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by wamaral on Fri Oct 10, 2008 11:31 am

agro1986 wrote:I have this program Anvil Studio which has a metronome.
Ah now I see where the confusion came from! It was all about the weirdness of software metronomes.

Think about this: you have your mechanical metronome in hands:

And you have your sheet music in front of you, and it's written in 3/4.

Then you set the metronome to 100 bpm and start it. It will start ticking, and you can be sure that after 1 minute it will have ticked 100 times. And if you were playing the music, you should have played 100 quarter notes in that time.

So far so good, right? Now, what if you want to change your music to 3/8? You go ahead, rewrite your sheet music in 3/8, changing all note values accordingly. Now what? Well, you don't set the mechanical metronome to 3/8 as it doesn't have such a thing! It's just there for ticking the beat, not keeping track of time signatures for you, so what happens? You start the metronome, it will start ticking (100 times a minute), but as your sheet music is now in 3/8, that means you now have to play 100 eighth notes in that time. So that's exactly what you wanted, right?

Ok, so let's see what went wrong with your software metronome: What it's doing - and what most software metronomes do, and I find it quite bizarre - is that when you set it to 100 bpm (beats per minute) it's actually counting 100 quarter notes per minute! It just assumes that your time denominator is a quarter note. And when you change it's signature to 3/8? It still counts 100 quarter notes per minute! What the change to 3/8 really did was this: the metronome mantained it's setting of 100 bpm, it's STILL counting 100 quarter notes a minute, but it's now ticking on EVERY EIGHTH note! So you actually hear 200 ticks on each minute - yeah, your metronome is fooling you Wink

Now, don't ask me why they do it, even my handheld digital metronome does it, very annoying!

Anyway, hope that helps to clear things now Laughing
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by Fryderyk on Fri Oct 10, 2008 3:35 pm

And that is why i dont like Software metronomes
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by VictorCS on Fri Oct 10, 2008 3:51 pm

I like em, never cause any problem if you know how to use em Cool
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by agro1986 on Sat Oct 11, 2008 7:16 am

wamaral, thanks a bunch for the explanation! Now I can be pretty sure about my basic understanding of time signature Smile. You're right in that it's the software that's causing my confusion.

The image of the metronome is superb! I've never seen once before Smile
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by pianohama on Sat Oct 11, 2008 11:56 am

agro1986 wrote:wamaral, thanks a bunch for the explanation! Now I can be pretty sure about my basic understanding of time signature Smile. You're right in that it's the software that's causing my confusion.

The image of the metronome is superb! I've never seen once before Smile

lol Razz does your avatar stand for like the derivative of infinity or something =P?
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by maggiekedves on Sat Oct 11, 2008 9:43 pm

wamaral wrote:And one more thing! (this is the last one, I promise) Laughing
Do not make the same mistake as I did:
There was this little piece (don't remember the name, but it's from Béla Bartók) that my Piano teacher brought me to play on class.

Was it "Bagatelle"?
You are right. It does depend on what kind of culture you are exposed to. For example because Béla Bartók was the biggest folk music advocate he used 2/2 and 2/4 many many times.

For me it helps to listen to the actual piece before playing so I can have a feel of 2/4 or any other time signatures.The more conscientously I listen to different songs in different time signatures the better I can distinguish them.
The example was great Wink Thanks for the links.
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by agro1986 on Sun Oct 12, 2008 10:23 am

pianohama wrote:
agro1986 wrote:wamaral, thanks a bunch for the explanation! Now I can be pretty sure about my basic understanding of time signature Smile. You're right in that it's the software that's causing my confusion.

The image of the metronome is superb! I've never seen once before Smile

lol Razz does your avatar stand for like the derivative of infinity or something =P?

Hehe Smile... It's actually the integral, the reverse operation of derivative Smile.
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by wamaral on Fri Oct 17, 2008 10:26 pm

agro1986 wrote:The image of the metronome is superb! I've never seen once before Smile
Really? Well, you should! They're gorgeous!
I'm thinking about purchasing one like that, just for it's beauty (I got plenty of digital metronomes - on the computer, the digital piano, and two handhelds). It would look great on my desk!
Of course it would look a lot better on top of an upright piano, but that one will take me a little longer to buy Laughing

VictorCS wrote:I like em, never cause any problem if you know how to use em
Yeah, I personally set my metronomes to 0/4 time signature and leave them that way, so it behaves like a regular metronome. Then I'll just set the tempo accordingly Wink
I leave them at 0/4 instead of 3/4 or 4/4 or whatever the music is, 'cause I don't really like the higher pitch on the first beat Laughing

maggiekedves wrote:Was it "Bagatelle"?
Oh no, it was not that (I looked that up on youtube, it's a little beyond my habilities) Laughing
I'll have to ask my teacher (if I can remember), as I don't really have any clue on the name of the piece. I have really bad memory for names Laughing
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Re: Why 2/8 and not 2/4???

Post by pianoplayer314 on Sat Nov 20, 2010 1:15 am

the difference between 2/4 and 2/8 time is 2/8 time is generally used for music with shorter and quicker notes, for example it would be very confusing to have a maesure of 16 32nd notes, while a two measures of 8 32nd notes seems more organized the music would be played the same, but one would be more confusing.

Hope this helped

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