12/8 Time Sig.

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Rockin John, May 26, 2005.

  1. A different thread revealed a particular song was done in 12/8.

    I checked my 'How to read music' book and discovered it is a compound time sig with 12, 8th notes per bar. Fine.

    I then wondered about the difference between 12/8, and 4/4 with each crotchet played as a semiquaver triplet. I do not understand how / why one is different from the other.

    The book discusses the "pulse" of the music so I guess the 12/8 pulse is different from 4/4 played as semiquaver triplets.

    After that I'm hopelessly and utterly lost.

    The song is T Bone Walkers (They call it) Stormy Monday. I listened again and again and still no understanding.

    Wisdom anyone.....?

    Please :D


  2. jazzbo


    Aug 25, 2000
    San Francisco, CA
    Jim?! Anybody seen Jim!? Where's JimK?!

    Alas, poor Jim has ignored this thread for the time being, but soon he shall arrive and answer all things rhythmic.

    Okay, 12/8:

    1-2-3 2-2-3 3-2-3 4-2-3

    Now that's one bar. It's like you've got triplets over a 4/4 pulse. Cause, 4/4, we know. That's:


    In each beat of 4/4, count of a triplet.
    Now 12/8 versus 6/8, that's a battle.

    1-2-3 2-2-3 // 1-2-3 2-2-3

    That's 2 bars, of 6/8, which is remarkably similar to 1 bar of 12/8, yes? But don't forget where the downbeat is falling, making 12/8 vs. 6/8 clearer.

    Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster" is 12/8, (to me).
  3. Christopher


    Apr 28, 2000
    New York, NY
    Practically, I don't think there's a difference. I guess maybe you'd count the former as 123 223 323 423, and the latter as 1+a 2+a 3+a 4+a, but the rhythm is the same.

    Musos typically use "12/8" as shorthand for blues shuffle. It's easier to say than "4/4 with each crotchet played as a semiquaver triplet."
  4. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    You know, effectively they are pretty much the same thing. Most anything you write in 12/8, if it's regular within 12/8, could also be written in 4/4 with triplets, and it would be played pretty much the same way, if the pulse (quarter note in 4/4, dotted quarter in 12/8) is at the same tempo. I suppose at slower tempos I might be more inclined to write 12/8.

    But for me, one practical difference is that in a song like Stormy Monday, if you want to write it in 4/4, you have to keep marking groupings of three 8th notes as triplets--that is, you have to add extra notation on top of what the time signature gives you. Which is needlessly cumbersome. Whereas with 12/8, you can just go with what the time signature gives you, and you don't have to keep writing "3" over all the groups of three 8th notes.
  5. Time Divider

    Time Divider Guest

    Apr 7, 2005
    Think Chicago's Color My World.
  6. kegbarnacle


    Nov 18, 2003
    This thread is unbelievably timely for me. My band is presently recording, and one of our songs has swung 8ths. It seems that about two thirds of this song I'm able to just naturally hit right. But there is one part that I'm not tight on, it wasn't even really apparant until we started listening back to just the bass and drum tracks.

    The attached picture is what I'm pretty sure is the bass part written out in 4/4. Apologies because my sight reading skills are complete garbage, but occasionally help me think about rythyms.

    Bassically then, I would count this as (ignore the dashes, my browser or possibly TalkBass ignored the whitespace that made the notes line up with the numbers):

    G---G --g g- d g
    123 223 323 423

    With the eighth notes hitting on the first and last note of each triplet? Is this correct or am I way off?

    thanks guys. If TB can help me with this I pretty much owe a supporting membership.
  7. embellisher

    embellisher Holy Ghost filled Bass Player Staff Member Supporting Member

    When I started teaching myself notation and theory, I started opening up the hymnbook when we would play a familiar song, to help my reading in reverse.

    I was amazed to discover that two hymns that I had thought were 4/4 since I was a kid were actually in 12/8. I had always thought that they were 4/4, and we just played them with a little swing.
  8. Phew.....

    OK. It seemed to me that 12/8 (assuming Stormy Monday is in 12/8) has a pulse that falls naturally on beats 1 and 7 of the 12. There might, too, be a lesser pulse falling on beats 4 and 10. I tried to listen to the snare, kick drum and Hi Hat to attempt to figure this out.

    It also seemed to me that 4/4 triplets as discussed and 12/8 were fairly identical if played at the same tempo. That particular song is quite slow and I have to admit (musical naivety aside) that 12/8 appears to make a longer bar which is more in keeping with the feel of the song.

    Richard makes an interesting point: I never thought about how cumbersome it would be writing the '3' above all the groups of notes.

    Thanks folks. Very interesting.

  9. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999

    Since I don't like counting past "10"...no need for me to comment.
    (See my next post, too).
  10. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    I agree...and that's the way I feel it.
    I once saw the bass transcription to "Can't Get Enough"(Bad Company)...IIRC, it was transcribed in 12/8. Who knew?
  11. john turner

    john turner You don't want to do that. Trust me. Staff Member Administrator

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    you are assuming, of course, that the accents fall at nice 3 note intervals. this is not necessarily always the case.

    time sigs in notation are used to help the person reading it comprend the piece quickly so that they can play it properly. often weird multi-time sig passages are written in combinations of repeating 3/8 and 2/8, but this may appear arcane and difficult to interpret, depending on the passage.

    for instance, in one of my songs the verses are accented 5/8, 4/8, 3/8. depending on who i was giving the transcription to, i may notate that as 12/8, since the main accent of the melody falls on every 12th 8th note, and the phrase is parsed at the 6th and 10th 8th notes.
  12. groove100


    Jan 22, 2005
    the placements of accents are different in 12/8 and 4/4 also the notation of course. I dont think there are a lot of 12/8 songs. generally composers will just use 6/8 on that, for the ease of reading, and its practical to use.
  13. I don't think that is necessarily true, I've come across alot of 12/8 blues tunes.

    I was taught to count compound meter as 1-la-le, 2-la-le, 3-la-le, etc........

    In 12/8 or 6/8 there are really two things going on. The appropriate amount of 1/8 notes per measure, and the pulse which is really felt as a dotted 1/4 note. Which is what gives compound meter its "rolling" or "shuffle" feel. IMO :cool:

  14. Jazzbo originally highlighted the 12/8 vs 6/8 issue and despite his input + that of others, I still cannot tell the difference between the two.

    I presume Stormy Monday could equally well have been written in 6/8 but there would have just been twice as many bars on the sheet? No, surely it has to be more than that?


  15. 12/8 has a four beat "feel" count = Triplet, Triplet,Triplet, Triplet

    6/8 has a two "feel" count = Triplet, Triplet

    In each time signature, the "unit of pulse" is a dotted quarter note. The difference between the two time sigs is essentially the same as the difference between 4/4 (12/8) and 2/4 (6/8).

  16. G---G --g g- d g
    123 223 323 423

    With the eighth notes hitting on the first and last note of each triplet? Is this correct or am I way off?

    I do not know what sort of timing is used in the rest of your song, but if that is all in 12/8 or 6/8 or any other sort of "shuffle" feeling, the bars you have written in 4/4 have to be read as "duplets" on every beat of 3 1/8notes. This means that the 2nd 1/8note of the beat of 2 1/8note does not fall one the 3rd part of your 123 beat, but somewhere in between 2 and 3.
    I suspect that what happens in the song is a change from ternary feel to binary at the bars you have written. The best way to tackle this problem is to stick to the beat you have established in the ternary part, and just play to this same beat the stuff in 4/4. This means that the dotted 1/4th note beat is used as basic length throughout your piece, but in the 4/4 bars you play binary rythms to it (like 2 1/8notes instead of 3).
    It's more difficult to explain than to play. If I knew what kind of rythm you are playing before, I could help you better, even write it out.