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Eighth notes, sixteenth notes and other faster note values have flags attached to the stem of the note. When two or more in a row of these faster note values are notated the flags are often replaced by a beam. Notes that use beams instead of flags must be beamed together in relationship to the pulse. One purpose of the beaming is to show the reader the grouping of note values as they relate to the beat structure of the meter. Beamed note groups should usually start at the beginning of a beat and the beam should stop at the end of the beat. The following examples will illustrate the concept of correct beaming.
In the first 4/4 example, each pair of eighth notes in the first measure can be beamed together because the first of each pair begins on the beat. However, in the second measure notice that the first eighth note is not beamed because it is on the second half of the second beat (it is not on the beginning of a beat). The next two eighth notes are beamed together because they are within the third beat of the measure and, more importantly, the first of that pair begins on the beat. The first note of a beamed group should begin on the beat (an exception to this rule will be shown later).
In the first measure of the next example, all four sixteenth notes of the third beat can be beamed together because the first sixteenth of that group begins on the beat and the entire group makes up one full beat. In the second measure notice that the four sixteenth notes are not beamed together but instead the first two sixteenth notes are beamed with the eighth note in the second beat and the next two sixteenth notes are beamed with an eighth note in the third beat. Notice that in each case the beamed groups begin on the beat and the beamed group lasts for one complete beat.
Combining sixteenth notes and eighth notes (or dotted eighth notes) in beamed groups is common in music notation and below are some of the typical rhythmic figures. In each example it is assumed that the first note of the beamed group begins on the beat.
As mentioned above sometimes a beamed group does not begin on the beat. The following is an example of this type of beaming.
Even though the sixteenth notes do not begin on the beat they can still be beamed together
Beaming in compound meter has a different look than simple meter. While both meters beam in accordance to the beat, in compound meter that beat is a dotted note value. In 6/8 meter, (when performed "in two") the dotted quarter is the beat and the eighth note is the three part subdivision. A series of three eighth notes, all within a beat, will be beamed together.
It is important that the beamed group starts at the beginning of a dotted quarter pulse and concludes at the end of that same dotted quarter pulse.
The following example shows both a correct and incorrect beaming of rhythms in 9/8 (counted "in three").
Common rhythms in compound meter as shown below. Notice how the beaming of the sixteenth notes works within the eighth note beaming.
Occasionally the beamed group of a rhythm will not begin or end on the dotted quarter pulse. The following example illustrates this notation, notice how the sixteenth notes in the first measure are beamed in two groups of two instead of grouping all four sixteenth notes together. This beaming allows the reader to see the second pulse of the measure as a new beamed group.
The beaming of triplets and other tuplets is in accordance with the borrowed subdivision. As an example, the following passage written in simple meter with triplet eighth notes is beamed similar to compound meter.
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