# Distinguishing time signatures

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by bass87, Jun 8, 2003.

1. ### bass87

Dec 7, 2002
wherever it takes me
I often seem to have the problem of distinguishing time signatures which are a multiple of each other; most of the time its the difference between 3/4 and 6/8.

Often when I count 6/8, I would count:
1 2 3 1 2 3 etc etc

Is this where am I going wrong? Should I count:
1 2 3 4 5 6 etc etc.

How does everyone else distinguish between time signatures that are a multiple of each other?

2. ### moley

Sep 5, 2002
Hampshire, UK
Ok, well the key difference here is the number on the bottom - 4 vs 8. In this context, the fact that there is an 8 on the bottom indicates that it is compound time, rather than simple time.

The 4 indicates simple time, and (in this case) the 8 indicates compound time.

With simple time, each main beat is divided into 2. So, with 3/4, the main beat is a quarter note, and each main beat is divided into two 8th notes.

Whereas, with compound time, each main beat is divided into 3. So, with 6/8, the main beat is a dotted quarter note, and each main beat is divided into three 8th notes.

So, while 3/4 could be counted as: 1 2 1 2 1 2
6/8 could be counted as : 1 2 3 1 2 3

Each of the 1s represents a main beat of the bar.

So, 3/4 is three lots of two, and 6/8 is two lots of three.

It's the 8 on the bottom that is the indicator of this. 3/8, 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8 are assumed to indicate compound time. That is, they are assumed to indicate 1 lot of 3, 2 lots of 3, 3 lots of 3, and 4 lots of 3, respectively.

Whereas the 4 on the bottom is assumed to indicate simple time.

Other time signatures with 8 on the bottom, such as 5/8 and 7/8 are *not* assumed to indicate compound time (5 and 7 are not multiples of 3). The beat grouping for 5/8 and 7/8 varies, and is generally indicated.

Compound vs simple is also the difference between a tune being played 'straight' or 'swung'. Straight being where each beat is divided into two, and swung being where each beat is divided into three. Although, tunes intended to be played with a swing feel (usually) won't be written in compound time.

3. ### Microbass

Jan 21, 2002
Glasgow, Scotland
Compound time is a multiple of 3, no???

4. ### bass87

Dec 7, 2002
wherever it takes me

One other thing though: I've always understood 5/4 to be compound time, but from what you are saying, it can't be as 5 is not a multiple of 3, and it has 4 at the bottom. I'm sure you're right in what you're saying, but I was always sure 5/4 was compound time

5. ### moley

Sep 5, 2002
Hampshire, UK
Yes, a multiple of 3 on top, and 8 on the bottom.

6. ### moley

Sep 5, 2002
Hampshire, UK
Not by any definition of compound time that I'm aware of. 5/4 is an irregular time signature, but it's simple, not compound.

7. ### bass87

Dec 7, 2002
wherever it takes me
Thanks for clearing that up Moley

8. ### Microbass

Jan 21, 2002
Glasgow, Scotland
i just read that fully. good post Moley!

9. ### moley

Sep 5, 2002
Hampshire, UK
Thank you

10. ### PacmanLayin' Down TimeStaff MemberGold Supporting Member

Apr 1, 2000
Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
Actually Moley, compound is the multiple of 3 on top, regardless of the number on the bottom - as the number on the bottom is how it's written. 9/8 or 9/16 really have no difference (other than an indication of tempo) - they're both compound.

And odd times are complex time.

11. ### Davidoc

Sep 2, 2000
Northern VA and JMU
Wait, hold on a sec. I'm pretty sure it's the other way around

I would count 3/4 as 1 2 3
6/8 as 1 2

It seems that 3/4 is just 4/4 cut a bit shorter, as are most time sigs in 4, and 6/8 would be 2 dotted half notes. In like all the music I've ever played or watched with a conductor, the conductor would always count 6/8 in 2 sets of 3 eight notes. The strong beats are on 1 and 4, so 6/8 is 123456, with the wand going down on the bold notes.

12. ### moley

Sep 5, 2002
Hampshire, UK
Yes, good point.

However, 3/4, 6/4 etc are not compound time, even though the number on the top is a multiple of 3.

13. ### moley

Sep 5, 2002
Hampshire, UK
Yes.

How is that "the other way around"? That's exactly what I said.

I said 3/4 is 1 2 1 2 1 2

And 6/8 is 1 2 3 1 2 3

And the 1s are the main beats. I'm counting the 8th notes there, just to show the difference between 6/8 and 3/4, and where the main beats lie.

14. ### PollyBass******

Jun 25, 2001
Shreveport, LA
This was my understanding as well

(I know, a theory post, but it's about odd time sigs, and i REALLY like odd time sigs.)

15. ### Davidoc

Sep 2, 2000
Northern VA and JMU
Oh yeah. I feel dumb. I just re-read your post. Yeah I guess yeah I guess I'm tired. Sorry man, you're definitely right on the mark. I'm not sure where I got the idea you said the opposite. Sorry.

16. ### geshel

Oct 2, 2001
Seattle
The feel difference between 3/4 and 6/8 is good to get down -- but I would still count both as 123456! Just

3/4: 1 2 3 4 5 6

6/8: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Though I'd count 3/4 as quarters - (half speed) 1 2 3

edit: my point being, I wouldn't put a "one" in the middle of a measure.

17. ### Davidoc

Sep 2, 2000
Northern VA and JMU
I think that's a good point gesh. Especially when you're playing compliated rythms, subdivision is a great tool to help you stay on the beat.

18. ### Richard Lindsey

Mar 25, 2000
SF Bay Area
I'd count 3/4 that way too. If the tempo is slow enough that you want to count the subdivisions, rather than counting to 6, it's probably better to do it this way:

3/4: 1 and 2 and 3 and

Most of the time, I find it easiest to count 6/8 this way:

6/8: 1 and a 2 and a

19. ### ConU

Mar 5, 2003
La Belle Province
IME 6/4 is grouped as compound duple,the beat being 2 dotted halfs and the quarter note the pulse rather than the beat.

20. ### moley

Sep 5, 2002
Hampshire, UK
Compound duple implies 6/8, I reckon.

6/4 can be grouped like that - but I still don't think it counts as compound time, because the main beat is still a quarter, and it's still divided into two 8ths.

Maybe it's a difference in the way this is taught, but the way I learnt it, it 6/4 is simple not compound.