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Thread: time signitures...are confusing me!!!

  1. #1
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    Nov 2006

    Question time signitures...are confusing me!!!

    ok so what the heck is the difference between a 6/8 sig and a 3/4 sig? wouldnt a 3/4 sig at 100 bpm be the same as a 6/8 50 bpm? and same with 2/4 and 4/8? and what about 4/4 and 2/4? 4/4 is just twice as long or something? AAAGGGHHHH!!!!!!

  2. #2
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Dec 2002
    Twickenham, UK
    6/8 is two beats in a bar, 3/4 is 3 beats per bar.
    In 6/8, the 8th notes are grouped in 2 sets of 3. (Two lots of triplets.) The feel is totally different from 3/4.
    3/4 time:
    8th notes:| X  x  X  x  X  x |
    Beats:    | 1  &  2  &  3  & |
    6/8 time:
    8th notes:| X  x  x  X  x  x |
    Beats:    | 1  &  a  2  &  a|
    Think of "Follow the Yellow Brick Road" from Wizard of Oz for a typical 6/8 feel - that cheesy old bompity-bompity rhythm. Irish jigs are commonly in 6/8.

    Slower 6/8 rhythms occur in rock, e.g., "House of the Rising Sun"

    The bpm of 6/8 is measure in dotted quarter notes (50% longer than a quarter note). IOW if the bpm is 120, that's 2 beats every second = six 8th notes per second. (One bar per second.)
    A bpm of 120 in 3/4 time means four 8th notes per second. Still 2 beats per second, but one bar takes 1 1/2 seconds.

    The difference between 2/4 and 4/4 is much more subtle in feel, and I'm not sure I could always tell the difference. 2/4 tends to be used for marches, and 4/4 is supposed to have a weaker beat on beat 3 than on beat 1 - but this is not often clear.
    There's also 2/2, which seems on the face of it the same as 4/4. I mean, I understand the theoretical difference (I think), but I have a Beatles songbook which has some songs written in 2/2 (or "cut time"), but there seems no consistent identifying factor to differentiate them from 4/4 ("common time") songs.
    Can anybody else help?

  3. #3
    Fancy Fingers The Doc's Avatar
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    Mar 2005
    Colorado Springs
    6/8 is the compound meter
    3/4 is simple meter.

    With compound meter, your "pulse" is signified by some dotted value. In the case of 6/8, it's a dotted quarter note.

    As far as 2/2 and 4/4 there's really no significant difference between the two. If I read a chart in 2/2 I just look at it in the same way that I do 4/4.
    Note to self: I'm not the only person here that knows something about music anymore.

  4. #4
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    Nov 2006
    alright, but how do i know if a song is in 3/4 or 6/8? since songs in 4/4 go "1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4" etc, how do i know if a song is going "1 2 3 1 2 3" or "1 2 3 4 5 6"?

  5. #5
    Registered User leppard81's Avatar
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    Apr 2005
    Quote Originally Posted by mr_les_paul_man
    how do i know if a song is going "1 2 3 1 2 3" or "1 2 3 4 5 6"?
    Well, both forms of counting are correct, since to the listener it doesnt make a difference how the musician counts, the rythm is the same with both forms.

    I usually tend to count 1-6 its a faster paced rythm, its easier to count for me; and if its slower I use 1-2-3.

    But you can differ between these two, by finding out which note has an accent. If the first note of a bar is accentuated, you just have to listen how many appear until the accentuated note comes again.
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  6. #6
    Modbod UKRuss's Avatar
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    Oct 2004
    Funky Munky World
    It is about feel really but 6/8 is essentially telling you there are 6 8th notes to a bar and 3/4 is telling you there are 3 crotchets to a bar.

    The accenting can be a red herring because while the rhythm might be played with an accent on the one or the one and the three, it doesn't have to have an accent to be a time signature.

    A time signature itself makes no sound, a rhythm played in a certain time signature makes the sound.

    So a traditional 3/4 can be counted as simply 1 2 3, 2 2 3, 3 2 3, 4 2 3, 5 2 3 etc.

    The waltz (as 3/4 is traditionally known) is commonly played by one percussion instrument on the one and another on the 2 and 3 so

    Dum chit chit, dum chit chit, dum chit chit etc.

    This is instantrly recognisable as 3/4 because the one is being accented by a different sound and happens every third noise.

    While the drummer is playing his dums and chits I can be playing my melody with any rhythm I like in the usual way but I wil want to resolve on the strong beats of the bar as is the norm for modern music.

    la, la, la, laaaaaa

    for example, lasting two bars. etc.

    6/8 has a totally different feel but would be counted in 8th notes as 1 2 3 4 5 6, 2 2 3 4 5 6, 3 2 3 4 5 6, 4 2 3 4 5 6 etc.

    And as previously mentioned is commionly accented on the 1 and 4. A drummer might approach this by playing all 8 beats of the bar on the hi-hat with a bass drum tap on the one and a snare hit on the 4.

    Then varying his riddim in the usual drummer way, but the accents help the other musicians identify the time sig and therefore the likely changes or end of bar/song etc.

    Just to recap though, how the rhythm is played shouldn't be confused with the time signature itself.

  7. #7
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Dec 2002
    Twickenham, UK
    Quote Originally Posted by mr_les_paul_man
    alright, but how do i know if a song is in 3/4 or 6/8? since songs in 4/4 go "1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4" etc, how do i know if a song is going "1 2 3 1 2 3" or "1 2 3 4 5 6"?
    6/8 is very easy to spot. It's totally different from 3/4. You'd never think they were similar at all until you saw them written down and realised they each had 6 8th notes in a bar.
    As I said, "Follow the Yellow brick road" (and "We're off to see the wizard") are classic 6/8 meters. You'd never mistake them for waltzes!
    "Edelweiss" is an example of classic 3/4 - quite a different feel.
    Bob Dylan also used to like 3/4: "Times they are a-changing", "Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall", "Chimes of Freedom", "Farewell Angelina" etc. (6 tracks on "Another Side of Bob Dylan" are in 3/4)
    He also had a crack at 6/8, in "Rainy Day Women" (although that might be 12/8 - I sometimes have problems differentiating 6/8 from 12/8 ).

    The slower 6/8 gets, the more it starts to sound like a fast 3/4 (or rather 2 bars of 3/4) - and vice versa. But the clue is where you feel the beat. The beat you count has to match the slow or fast feel of the tune.

    Take REM's "Everybody Hurts". This could be a fast 3/4. But if you count those arpeggio notes as "1-2-3-4-5-6" etc, it makes the tune sound fast - and it isn't, it's dead slow. The beats come every 3 notes - not on every note. So it might be 3/8 - but there's a clear difference between one set of 3 and the next: down and up beats. So it's 6/8.
    But the chords change every 12 8th notes - so 12/8 looks maybe more likely than 6/8, even tho there's little if any rhythmic difference between the 1st and 3rd beats.

  8. #8
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    Nov 2006
    ok thanks, this really cleared up some confusion.

  9. #9
    IbreatheMusic Author daviej's Avatar
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    Jan 2003
    Sydney, Australia
    Set a metronome beating quavers and go back and forth between these, saying a syllable on each click. Try clapping on the numbers, too.

    6/8 - count 1 & a 2 & a 1 & a 2 & a etc
    3/4 - count 1 & 2 & 3 & 1 & 2 & 3 & etc

    I would suggest 2/2 is like 4/4 but with a half time feel.

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