What's the difference between 3/4 and 6/8?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by SuperDuck, May 14, 2001.

  1. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    I was flipping through one of my jazz books and saw that when they listed time signatures, they listed 3/4 and 6/8. I don't get it. Wouldn't they essentially represent the same time signature? We don't list things in 8/8 time. (As far as I know, anyway...)
  2. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Well, the difference is this: 3/4 time is 3 beats per bar, quarter note gets a beat, and the divisions of the beat (eight notes) are two even 8ths per beat. 6/8 time is actually 2 beats per bar, {b]dotted[/b] eight gets a beat, so that each beat is divided into 3 eight notes.

    To put it another way:

    3/4 time: 1 & 2 & 3 &

    6/8 time: 1 & a 2 & a

    And if you're one of those people who likes to know the proper names for things. 3/4 time is "simple triple with the quarter note unit of beat" and 6/8 time is "compound duple with the dotted quarter note unit of beat".

    Hope that was clear.
  3. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    They're very different feels - 6/8 is used in Latin or African music, whereas a typical 3/4 is a waltz; although in Jazz, 3/4 is more subtle and can often have a two feel as the bass player or just one note per bar.

    Personally, I can only "grasp" the difference by thinking of concrete examples - so I would contrast a tune like Afro Blue in 6/8 with say : Freddie Hubbard's "Up Jumped Spring" in 3/4.

    Pop/Rock music very rarely ventures into 3/4 and even more rarely 6/8.
  4. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    Thanks for clearing that up, guys. (And so promptly, too! :) ) I'll have to go lookin for some 6/8 songs to get a feel for the timing. Never seen or played one before, even in jazz band.
  5. john turner

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

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    many times this applies, but sometimes 6/8 is just that - 6 8th notes per bar, depending on where the accents fall, the composer's desired pulse for the piece, or even just depending on the part, it just might make more sense writing it out as 6/8 than it would as 3/4.

    i've seen 8/8 and 4/8 listed before as time sigs, mainly in pieces where the sig changes and from some other x/8 sig, to keep the reading consistent.

    to me, x/8 sigs imply a different kind of pulse than x/4 sigs do. when i put something together and expect a faster pulse, i use x/8 sigs and if i want a quarter note pulse, i use x/4.

    remember the sigs are there just like all the other information on the sheet music, just to help the performer more easily understand the composer's wishes.
  6. td1368


    Jan 9, 2001
    I've been struggling with those time signatures also. So how would you count the time per measure? Is it like what Pacman said?
  7. john turner

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

    Mar 14, 2000
    atlanta ga
    i always treat x/8 sigs like x/4 sigs, only faster, when i am counting them.

    in my band, we do a lot of stuff with odd time sigs, lots of 7/8 or 7/4 along with a lot of stuff that alternates 7/8 9/8 or 3/4 5/4 every other measure, where the drummer might end up playing in straight 4 over it. or not. we also do stuff in 12/8 that ends up being sorta like what pacman was saying, where it really ends up being like a 4/4 waltz - where a dotted quarter gets the beat (imagine a guy on a tuba playing OOM-pa-pa-OOM-pa-pa-OOM-pa-pa-OOM-pa-pa ;) ), only with a triplet pulse.

    we also do stuff that's "long" measures, like 13/8 and 15/8 - sometimes this is alternating combinations of shorter time sigs (6/8-7/8 or 7/8-8/8) and other times it's just straight 8ths, like the 13/8 near the end of our instrumental.

    for all this stuff i just count every beat, using "sev" for seven, since the accents in our x/8 measures don't always correspond to where quarter notes would fall.

    the link in my sig is to our instrumental and it has a lot of odd time sigs in it, as well as the alternating sigs that i was talking about.
  8. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    It depends on the application.

    TECHNICALLY 6/8 means one beat per eighth note, six per measure. So you would count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

    I used to play in a band that did Celtic music; 6/8 is used for jigs (reels are in 4/4). The pulse however was a two-beat which gives the FEEL of triplets over cut time (2/4). While I would play bass lines that felt like quarter notes, technically they were dotted eighths.

    For jazz, I've seen 6/8 used to notate pieces actually in 2/4 (and 12/8 for pieces in 4/4). This was done to more clearly notate the triplet feel inherent in swing rhythms.
  9. Turock

    Turock Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2000
    A few examples may help to better understand:

    Some examples of triple meter would be the U.S. National Anthem, Amazing Grace, Happy Birthday. One strong beat and two weaker beats.

    Some examples of sextuple meter would be Silent Night, Greensleeves, Scarborough Fair. As Pacman pointed out, the main accents fall on the one and four.
  10. I thought it was the other way around.

    The only songs on the radio that Ive heard that are in 3/4 is Breaking the Girl by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and some De Angelo song.

    A whole lot of Marilyn Manson songs are in 6/8, a perfect circle song or two, longview by greenday, and a whole bunch of other songs which I dont know the names of. 4/4 is by far most popular, but I think 6/8 follows behind in 2nd.
  11. JimK


    Dec 12, 1999
    I like Pacman's description...a lot.
    His sketching the rhythms out makes it easy to SEE how 6/8 & 4/4 relate-
    /1 & a 2 & a/3 & a 4 & a/

    The 6/8 component-
    1&a2&a=123456; 3&a4&a=123456

    The 4/4 component(spread over TWO bars)is the boldfaced 1-2-3-4
    ...which just so happens to be the pulse on the 6/8 component.
    Cool stuff(IMO)...is it in 4 or 6?

    I was in the gym earlier & the Classic Rock station is on ..."Living In The Past" by Tull was playin', a Pop/Rock tune in 5. Kinda weird...
    There are some Pop/Rock/R&B "ballad"-type tunes in 6/8; "If You Don't Know Me By Now"(Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes; also covered by Simply Red)is one I used to play. Same, too, for most of "God Bless The Child" by Blood, Sweat, & Tears.
    Chicago's "Colour My World" is in 6; another of their tunes, "Loneliness Is Just A Word" is in 3 & Cetera does some nice walkin'/swingin' in 3. Cool tune.

    "Longview" by Green Day? That's 4-on-the-floor...right?

    ...and Turner, you're giving me a headache! ;)
  12. mnadelin


    Apr 6, 2003
    Kalamazoo, MI
    Big time bump here.

    I'm a drummer. I always think of 6/8 as a rocking 3/4. Meaning, it rocks back and forth like 1-2-3, 1-2-3... Listen to All Blues and you'll know what I mean. 6/8 is like two sets of 3/4 teetering back and forth together.

    That probably made no sense when you read it, but when you're playing, it's a good way to remember the beat.
  13. well from the way i have always understood it 6/8 is more like 2/4 played in tripelits. and the best example ive always used to demonstrate it is hickory dickory dock.
  14. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    Wow, that was a bump. :D
  15. moley


    Sep 5, 2002
    Hampshire, UK
    Actually I think there are plenty of pop songs in 6/8. For example those 50s doo-wop (think Oh Darling! by The Beatles, it's very much in that style), as well as things like Unchained Melody. Then there's things like Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel", which could be said to be in compound time.
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    Two and a half years between posts!! :eek:
    I was a different person when this thread was first written!! ;)
  17. lmao didnt evan see the dates
  18. SuperDuck


    Sep 26, 2000
    Oh, was this before the surgery? ;)
  19. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    No - just two and half years more of Jazz lessons! ;)
  20. Chasarms

    Chasarms Casual Observer

    May 24, 2001
    Bettendorf, IA USA
    That's how I feel it. Unless it is ridiculously slow, I typically will count 6/8 charts in cut time.