As far as I understood the difference between the various time signature is essentially where strong and soft beats are located. For example in 4/4 we have strong beat - soft beat - medium strong beat and soft beat. In 3/4 strong beat- soft beat - soft beat. In compoud time signatures the strong beat is the first of each three.

The question is, if the single beat is made up of different notes where should the accent be located? For example:

Case A

enter image description here

Case B

enter image description here

Case C

enter image description here

What's the general rule to determine the position of the accent?

  • 1
    This is not a chicken and egg situation. The accents are there in the music before it's written down. Where they come is what determines how they get portrayed in the music. Thus, generally speaking, the first emphasised or accented beat is recognised as the first part of the bar.
    – Tim
    Aug 5, 2020 at 7:23
  • "For example in 4/4 we have strong beat - soft beat - medium strong beat and soft beat." Not always. Perhaps not even usually. For example, there is "middle soft strong soft," and "soft strong soft strong" in 4/4, and I don't think these are uncommon at all. Aug 5, 2020 at 10:06
  • 3
    Your 6/8 example should either be in 3/4 instead or be re-beamed appropriately.
    – Dekkadeci
    Aug 5, 2020 at 11:12
  • The general rule is that the very first sound in a bar is accented. In cases A and B that would be the 1st semi. Case C is written wrongly anyway, but the first note played is accented - in normal situations.
    – Tim
    Aug 6, 2020 at 6:37
  • @Dekkadeci: As I may have mentioned. Ahem. Aug 7, 2020 at 6:46

3 Answers 3


The accents for subdivisions follow the same patterns as for time signatures. So, a subdivision of 4 would be accent like a measure of 4:

quadruple division of a beat

And a subdivision of 3 would be

triple division of a beat

All of those accents are relative to which beat in the measure contains those subdivisions.

  • 1
    Sometimes there are variations- it depends on the piece. For triple time it is often - strong, weakest, weak etc.
    – Peter
    Aug 5, 2020 at 1:49

Case C is in 6/8 so, as you say, the strong beat is the first of each three. Your example is written as if it's a 3/4 bar. Strictly speaking, it should be written: enter image description here

6/8 bars are counted in two groups of three quavers (eighth notes). I've marked the main beats 1 and (1) and you should be tapping your foot on those, even though there is no note on the second one '(1)'.

The first four notes are accented as Aaron described in his first example, and the last two are semi-strong.

Composers have exploited the similarity between 6/8 bars and 3/4 ones for centuries. You could read about this - hemiola, as it's called - here. Or just listen to Ginastera's Malambo, the 4th movement of his Estancia Suite.

  • 1
    ...or listen to 'America'...
    – Tim
    Aug 5, 2020 at 5:30
  • @Tim I thought it would make a change! Aug 5, 2020 at 8:47
  • Still, for someone who is learning about the phenomenon, it is perhaps not so familiar as to the rest of us! America - youtu.be/_e2igZexpMs?t=56 Aug 5, 2020 at 10:53

6/8 would be S,W,W,M,W,W Where S=strong, W=week, M=medium

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