Definition of hemiola in US English:



  • A musical figure in which, typically, two groups of three beats are replaced by three groups of two beats, giving the effect of a shift between triple and duple meter.

    • ‘Then come odd meters, hemiolas, spiraling solos, and your head spinning the rest of the way.’
    • ‘The original inspiration for this deluxe 21st-century version of the hemiola is the 19th-century's master of rhythmic ambiguity, Brahms.’
    • ‘During the short bridge, one guitarist plays an arpeggiated figure that emphasizes the hemiola division, while the drummer maintains a strict quarter-note division on the hi-hat.’
    • ‘His is an oceanic performance that gives emphasis to the work's undulating hemiolas as they reach across bar lines and destabilize phrase periods.’
    • ‘It was the litany of fruity vowels and partisan plosives of the Russian language that inspired Musorgsky; likewise, Scriabin manipulated hemiolas and syncopes to mimic the rhythms of his native tongue.’


Late Middle English: via medieval Latin from Greek hēmiolia ‘in the ratio of one and a half to one’ (from hēmi- ‘half’ + holos ‘whole’).