Rhythmic Riddle - Writing with Unwritable Rhythms

A notation challenge for you! As well as insight into writing with the "unwritable". My answer is not the ONLY ANSWER! In fact, several musicians have contacted me showing objectively better ways to notate this. It's still a good puzzle to work out as a musician. 


Please note, this transcription was computer generated and has not been checked for errors. However, I do hope you find it helpful. Be sure to check out The Ultimate Modal Poster!

Warning the following video contains mathematics viewer discretion is advised.

Sometimes very simple questions can have very complicated answers and our system of Music Theory can be sort of unintuitive where it can take simple ideas and make them more complicated than they need to be and that's what I want to demonstrate in this video. I've got a rhythm here that is seemingly innocent. You'll be able to perform it and play it somewhat easily after just a few seconds but finding a way to notate it is nearly impossible and just understanding what the Rhythm actually is is strangely complicated.

So in this video, I'm going to show you this Rhythm and then I'm going to challenge you to find a way to notate it and to understand what's going on with this Rhythm.

Then I'm going to walk you through some of the answers that I came up with and how I got to those answers then at the end of the video. I'm going to actually compose with these rhythms so we can actually put them to good use. So to get started. Let me just show you what this Rhythm looks like if I programmed it into a drum track on reason I'll start off by clicking in the very last sixteenth note of this measure.

I'll drag that no doubt. So it extends past the first eighth note then I'll switch to eighth notes and Within a single eighth note on the and of one from there. I'll switch to eighth note triplets. I'll click in one eighth note triplet to eighth note triplets and then I'll switch back to 16th notes and place a sixteenth note at the very end from here. I'll repeat the same pattern. I'll extend the sixteenth note by a single eighth note add in a single eighth note and then add in one note of a triplet two notes of a triplet and another sixteenth note. Now. You should be taking note of this strange gap between my triplet note and my sixteenth note.

So here's what the Rhythm. Sounds like if we play it.

So it's a pretty awkward Rhythm but it's not insane and it's fairly playable. The problem is though is trying to find a way to write it. So what I want you to do is find a way to write those exact same pulses in really any time signature. You don't have to stay in for four and also try to figure out what is the length of that Gap that we saw between those two notes and how long should this note of the sequence ring out for I'll take a quick break to give you a chance to figure this out.

So before I just show you the final Rhythm that I came up with. I want to walk you through how I got there. So to get started solving this we're going to simplify the Rhythm a bit. So it doesn't go between the measures that's notate it like this instead two eighth notes and a grouping of eighth note triplets that takes up two whole beets so we can think of this as a measure of to for however, I don't want this last triplet note to be played at all instead. I want a sixteenth note to play. At the very last moment before the measure ends. So if I'm counting sixteenth notes, it should fall on 1 E and A 2 e and ah, so now our full Rhythm sounds like this one and two trip a one and two trip a one and two triple 1 this is not legal notation.

You can't just cram a sixteenth note in here because the measure is already full these two eighth notes take up a full beat and this triplet grouping takes up a full beat. What we need to discover is the exact value of this node. Right here if it's actually played as an eighth note triplet, it would ring out for one-third of a beat and that means my next note would occur with one-third of the beat remaining but I need my last note to occur with 1/4 of the bead remaining.

How long is it really supposed to ring out for we can answer that question for every other note easily with the exception of this one.

So, let's simplify things by just looking at the triplet group this takes up one full beat the first note would take up a third of a beat since there are three eight. Triplets in a quarter note, the second note is of unknown value and we don't even want to play this last note instead. We want a sixteenth note that takes up one quarter of a beat.

So if we take a full beat and subtract 1/3 and then subtract 1/4 will know the remainder of the beat which would be the correct value for our mystery note.

So let's do a little math 1 minus 1/3 minus 1/4 works out to 12 12 minus 4 12 minus 3/12 and that gives us an answer of 512.

So this note right here needs to ring out for a total of five twelfths of a beat.

So how do we figure out what 5/12 of a beat is we could subdivide a quarter note into eighth note triplets. That's three notes per beep. We could also do 16th note triplets. That would be six notes per beat and we could also do 32nd note triplets and that is twelve notes per beat.

So 5/12 of one beat is the same thing as 5 32nd note triplets likewise one third of our beat is for 32nd note triplets and 1/4 of our beat is 32nd note triplets so we could write out our Rhythm like this now.

But that's basically uncountable.

No human could be reasonably expected to parse triplets at that level. But there's hope we can make this readable by expanding it and removing the triplets. I'm to do that we can multiply the entire Rhythm by a factor of 3 multiply this eighth note by 3 and you get three eighth notes or a dotted quarter note do the same thing to this eighth note. Now this note here used to be worth one. Third of a beat but multiplying it by 3 means it's worth just a single beat or a quarter note.

Let's skip the weird note for now and go to our sixteenth note multiply. By 3 and you have three sixteenth notes for a dotted eighth note.

Now. Our mystery note used to be worth five twelfths of a single beat, but after multiplying that by 3, it's now worth fifteen twelfths of a bead, which is the same thing as 1 and 1/4 1 and 1/4 beads is the same thing as a quarter note tied to a sixteenth note. So we could write that in like this now to make things a little more readable. Let's group this last section correctly and voila the unrightable Rhythm and elegant Simplicity.

It's still completely.

Ridiculous to count and it's no longer in for for but we could fix that by simply treating the entire thing as a tuplets of Six Beats to four beats.

So I'll admit it. I think it's insane that we have to go through this much work to figure out what's going on in a simple Rhythm like this. I think most musicians would agree just by describing the Rhythm and understanding it on its basic level is enough to be able to perform it even though you're not actually counting 5 twenty-fourths of a beat. You're performing 520 fourths of a beat when you do this now to get the Rhythm that I showed you at the beginning of the video. All I have to do is take this me. Are in play it twice and then I can tie the last sixteenth note to the very first eighth note and I've got the Rhythm that we started with this specific Rhythm was brought to my attention on the music theory subreddit by user swimming fail. He had written this rhythm in a DOT and had no way to write it out for his fellow musicians and Ash The Forum. Hey, what do I do to notate this and I was thoroughly entertained by the diverse replies that he received.

Some people said that you should just write it as a dragged note. The note should be slightly late. Some people tried writing into voice. Things which I think is probably the easiest way to notate it and others just flat-out claim that it is unrightable because it's too weird and I never accept that as an answer. So I decided to go through the math here and was really freaked out and how difficult it was to solve. So for me the next step was to take some of these Concepts and actually try to apply them. I found it very helpful to take the theory that you're learning and instantly start writing with it and using it. And what I decided to do is take this on writable Rhythm and play it three times and do a slight variation on it the fourth time.

I wrote a Baseline and a chord progression and Sharp Dorian, which is essentially just the same thing as the key of E major just revolving around that second tone.

For me that was actually pretty tricky to get the timing for it. This is not an intuitive Rhythm for me at all. So I had to listen to it a few times after I programmed it in but also understanding sixteenth note feels versus triplet feels is invaluable.

So for me, I can kind of turn off the brain and just go by feel because I have so much practice working with the triplet feel and working with the sixteenth note feel I know what it feels like to play the last uh of a measure and I know what it feels like to play triplets over a pulse, so I'm kind of not Really counting at this point even though I'm counting with my mouth. I'm really trying to focus on the feel of what a triplet feel feels like and what a sixteenth note feels like but still surprisingly difficult to play at this speed. So I wrote those rhythms as a base part and then on top of that I just wrote a guitar part. That's an F sharp minor 9 to a B7 and that gives me that nice little Dorian flare. I always like going from minor one chord to a major four chord. It gives you a nice smooth funky kind of Jazzy sound. I also added a very very simple line on top just to kind of make things a little groovier and hippie. Pure and then last I wrote a solo in F sharp Dorian that's kind of switches between the Dorian scale and just the pentatonic minor scale. So here's what it sounds like putting that all together.

So I thought this was pretty entertaining and it was pretty mind-expanding for me to do something like this, you know in Western Rhythm everything revolves around the number for the whole note is king So when you start working with groupings of three it instantly gets a little bit more complicated and I think it really creates some deficiencies in our abilities to interpret rhythms easily. I mean, even though that this is the correct Rhythm this is not easy to parse even though I can count it count it at the right speed is Not Practical.

It's much more practical to just internalized this Them understand it on its surface level and then perform it from there because seeing something like this in expecting somebody to read it instantly. I don't think it's fair to any musician. Now. It's worth bringing up the idea of an irrational time signature here. Some of you might have tried shifting into an irrational time signature here, but I don't think it helps us much in this instance. What would really help us is if we had a solid notation for a third note a note that just takes up one third of a beat a single solitary note like that and that doesn't exist because when you start adding in third notes you start getting Annal time signatures that are shaved off or added on by thirds of a beak, and I'm totally fine with that personally.

It just seems like we need to update our music theory system to accommodate for stuff like that a little bit better if that exists and I haven't found it. Please. Let me know. I'm open to other suggestions on how to notate this Rhythm besides just this. So I hope you enjoyed this video. I hope you got something out of it. If you did enjoy this video, please like subscribe comment all that good stuff. If you really liked this video then please check out my patreon. That's where you can support videos like this going forward.

Thanks for watching.


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