The Music Corner for Piano Lovers

The Problem of Sixteenth Notes in Alla Breve

22 Feb 2015 News

 Should you treat a piece written in Alla Breve (Cut Time) as though it was written in Common Time?

It depends, I think, on the piece. Some pieces lend themselves to being treated as though they were written in 4/4 time, and this may make counting easier. In other pieces, treating the 2/2 time signature as though it were written in 4/4 can add emphases where you don't want them. It's best to try counting both ways, and use your ear to determine whether or not it makes a noticeable difference. If there's no difference in sound, and the piece has sixteenth notes, which in 2/2 time, need to be treated as thirty-second notes, you may be better off counting in 4/4 time.

Sometimes, however, a piece written in Alla Breve just doesn't lend itself to being treated as though it were written in common time. If it happens to have sixteenth notes, how should you count those?

In common time, sixteenth notes are counted 1-e-&-a. But in Alla Breve, these, as I've already mentioned, are to be counted as thirty-second notes. And there's no easy way to add in sounds between the 1-e-&-a for the four extra sub-beats. So, here's the strategy I've devised. First mentally, sub-divide each half note in the piece into a series of four eighth notes, which, of course, are counted 1-e-&-a in cut time. If the piece does have eighth notes, and chances are that it will, you'll be playing a note for every sub-beat.

Play the piece, counting 1-e-&-a, 2-e-&-a. Tap your foot as you play and count, with a tap for each sub-beat, even if you're not necessarily playing a note for each sub-beat. Once you've established a base rhythm, replace each portion of the beat with da. So, instead of counting 1-e-&-a for each half note or its divisions, you'll be counting da-da-da-da.

Now, when you come to the sixteenth notes, you'll have to play two notes for each da. You can use di-di to denote the sub-divisions of the da. Tap or clap these first before you try playing them, so you can be quite sure you're dividing each da into two equal sub-beats. This will help you figure out the duration of each thirty-second note, and play each one evenly and correctly.

 You'll also find this strategy useful for playing thirty-second notes in common time or any time signature with 4 in the bass, that is to say pieces in which the quarter note gets a beat.  



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