Thursday, April 17, 2008


As a milksop, I've been reticent to specify the true nature of some rhythms I use commonly, so I'd like to say here for those of you listening that when the pulse is basically quarters (say) and I write a time signature of 7/8 (say), what I really mean is 3½/4 or 3/4 + 1/8 or 3.5/4.  I've tried to explain this to a number of conductors in the past but they've scowled at me and tossed their hair and brushed me aside and explained that this is simply not possible, that they can't have a dangling ½ a beat andthen  proceed to conduct it as 2 2 3, which really is not the same, now is it? I mean, it's *really* goddang not the same! So why do I allow it? Well, see the definition of namby-pamby in your well-thumbed English-English dictionary.  

Looking back, I was clearly infected with such jumpy skittery rhythms by their common usage in the pop music of my youth, e.g., Led Zeppelin's Ocean, which features an ostinato alternating between 4/4 and 3½/4. My high school was a hotbed of wannabe progressive rock musicians and often featured such at the oral-sex-and-alcohol-fueled parties which I would have attended except for my aforementioned milksopish milquetoastishness, but sometimes, leaving the SQ-encoded recording of Petrushka playing on my quad hifi, I would sneak outside in my bunny footed yellow pajamas to peek in through the window, to hear them playing excerpts from such devil-besotted music, their long locks swaying to the beat, sweat dripping down their bare chests, a slide show of one of them dressed in their SCA finery projected on the walls while their girlfriends (ah, girlfriends!) waited for it all to stop so they could put on their singer-songwriter LPs and make out with their BFs, lost in a romantic fantasy, fingers and lips searching and probing the limits of their young love.


Lynne Rutter said...

do you still have those pajamas?

Erling Wold said...


Anonymous said...

Indeed! The rhythm you're describing is not at all captured by the notion of "7/8". It's very common in Bulgarian and other Balkan folk music. Where you think of it as 3½/4, I try to articulate it as, simply, as "long, short, short" (3½/2/2) or "short, long" (3½/4).

I once had to teach this rhythm to some singers who weren't Bulgarian. Failed.

I wrote about this in a bit more detail here. Unfortunately the examples I linked to are not available anymore.

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