Notate 2 quarters in the space of 3 eighths


It sounds so simple, right? Two quarter notes in the space of three eighth notes, like in the last bar of Leonard Bernstein’s “America” from West Side Story:

And if you’re a Finale user, it is simple. Just choose 2 Quarters in the space of 3 Eighths from the Tuplet Definition dialog…

…and you’re done:

In Sibelius and Dorico, though, we have to go through a few more steps.

Why, you ask?

Because Sibelius and Dorico always think of tuplets as N in the space of M, where both N and M are equivalent units — they each have the same note value. In other words, a 4:3 tuplet could mean four eighths in the span of three eighths, or four quarters in the span of three quarters, but not, as in the Finale example above, two quarters in the span of three eighths.

Indeed, in Sibelius, creating a full bar of 4 quarters in a 6/8 bar is relatively easy. Just choose Note Input > Triplets > Other and make a 4:3 tuplet:

The result:

Ah, but what if I want 2 quarters in the space of 1.5 quarters? No can do. Only integers are welcome to this party.

Well, I can create this, at least:

I know what some of you may be thinking. Just break the beam and hide the flags, and it will look like quarter notes:

Or, clever you, make the eighths dotted, and avoid tuplets entirely:

No, no, no! I want real quarter notes! With a duplet! Just like Bernstein wrote! Because this is “America!” (In case you were wondering why we weren’t calling them crotchets and quavers?)

Let’s persist down this rabbit hole, then.

The solution: Sibelius

The solution in Sibelius is to use nested tuplets. Let’s take each of the eighths in the 2:3 tuplet and, for each of them, create a 2:1 tuplet:

So we have this:

Select the nested tuplets, go to the Inspector, and choose None and No bracket (you could alternatively hide the nested tuplets in Home > Edit > Hide or Show):

Finally, change the eighths to quarters:


The solution: Dorico [updated]

When I first published this post, I outlined a process in Dorico that was, essentially, the same as the one in Sibelius, which involved using nested tuplets, going to the Properties, and select Number: None and Bracket: Hidden.

As quick as ever, though, Steinberg’s Daniel Spreadbury pinged me within minutes and described a much simpler solution, as did several Scoring Notes readers. Here it is!

First, invoke the Tuplet popover and type 4:3e (the e is for “eighth”) — remember, no decimals allowed:

Enter the two quarter notes, so we have this:

Select the tuplet, go to the Properties, and switch on Use contracting ratio:

And you’re done:


Now that you’ve done this, you can copy and paste it to other bars and change the pitches, if needed.

Further reading

Get Elaine Gould’s book Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation, open to page 203, and read about “contracting ratios” and other such items until your head explodes.


  1. Waldbaer

    In Dorico, there is an alternative way:
    – create a 4:3 tuplet using eights
    – enter your 2 quarters as you like
    – in the options of the tuplet, activate “contracting ratio” to turn the 4 into a 2

    OK, I have no idea, what a “contracting ratio” ist, so I’ll now take Behind Bars and read the suggested chapter. ;-)

    1. Waldbaer

      OK, a contracting ratio means “number makes faster” or tuplet-ratio >1.
      The opposite, an expanding ratio, means “numbers make slower” or tuplet-ratio <1. This is not common, it might be found e.g. if you have a tuplet of 7 16th notes in the time of 8. I prefer to use the contracting ratios consistently, though, so I would write this example as 7 8th notes in the time of 4. Gould accepts both variants, as long as the expanding ratio is bigger than 2:3 (that means the tuplet values are the nearest non-tupleted values).

      I don't understand though, why this button in Dorico is named "use contracting ratio": It just divides the first value of the ratio by two, as long as the result is a natural number (if not, it does actually nothing) no matter what values you might use – it actually makes the ratio wrong if you display it completely.

    2. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Waldbaer! Yes, within minutes after publishing the post, Daniel Spreadbury described this process exactly to me, and I have updated the post. The term “Contracting ratio” does seem a little scary.

  2. Bob Zawalich

    I will look into writing a plugin that can look like the Finale way of creating such a tuplet. It will obviously do the same thing Philip is doing by hand, but it should require less angst.


    1. Philip Rothman

      Bob… you have already reduced the angst in my life by an incalculable amount.

  3. Ignacio Lois

    I know this blog tends not to acknowledge that LilyPond exists, but here:

    \tuplet 2/3 { c4*1/2 f4*1/2 } f,8 r r

    (just to be clear, I do love the blog)

    1. Ignacio Lois

      Here you can see the result:

      1. Philip Rothman

        Hi Ignacio. Thanks for that example. It looks great!

        I am very happy to acknowledge the existence of LilyPond. Acknowledging the reality of only 24 hours in a day is a more difficult challenge! Sometimes I remind myself of the blog’s humble origins and think how far it has come… and how far it still has to go…

        1. Ignacio Lois

          Hehe… I’m teasing, of course. I don’t even know if LilyPond has enough users to merit acknowledgement as compared to the big three.

          I also know some simple things can get verbose in LilyPond but the ease and flexibility when it comes to tuplets is something I couldn’t resist the chance to show off.

          Someone said to me once that we LilyPond users are like the vegans of music notation. Oh well…

          1. Philip Rothman

            Sounds like a “healthy diet” of music notation!

  4. Quetzal

    Please stop it… this is not the correct way to write this tuplet!!!
    Sibelius and Dorico got it correctly (computer work). Bernstein wrote it wrongly (human error!!).

    Sorry Maestro!!!

    1. Philip Rothman

      HI Quetzal! I wish we could go back in time to get Bernstein’s approval to change it. But the flux capacitor in my DeLorean is broken.

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