I've noticed that 6 allows me to have a 3:2 polymeter in a single time signature. I've thought of perhaps doing it for the Saturn movement of my Planets Suite, where some instruments have a 3/4 emphasis and others have a 2/4 emphasis and the time signature itself is 6/4.

But like, how would I get that across? I mean what's intuitive and what's true for 6/8 are exact opposites(intuitive, accent every 3 beats is a 3/4 emphasis, accent every other beat is a 2/4 emphasis, true for 6/8, accent every 3 is a 2/4 emphasis and accent every other is a 3/4 emphasis). And if something applies to 6/8, it would make sense that it would apply to 6/4 as well. Except that tempo probably has something to do with it and the Saturn movement would be a slow Adagio, so maybe the intuitive would apply?

I know I could just have it so that there are 3/4 and 2/4 time signatures alternating staves or whatever, but that would probably be more confusing than helpful, especially for the conductor(yes, my suite if you didn't already know is for an orchestra) and in practice, I've only seen this in piano pieces and pieces for bands, and even then, very rarely. Never have I seen it for orchestra. I've seen time signatures alternate across time in orchestral works, but not across instruments. So having a single 6/4 time signature would probably be helpful to the conductor. It would also make it a whole lot easier on Musescore, as I have found that I can't paste when time signatures are alternating staves, at least for piano and other instruments using the grand staff.

But that then begs the question of which accent pattern would correspond to which meter. This is what my intuition tells me:

enter image description here

In other words, my intuition is telling me that an accent on every third quarter note will give a 3/4 feel and that an accent every other quarter note will give a 2/4 feel. But then again, for 6/8, it is just the opposite and as I stated before, it would make sense that what applies to 6/8 applies to 6/4. But then again, tempo has to be taken into consideration and for Saturn, that tempo is a slow Adagio. And slow tempos tend more towards individual beats than multiple pulses in a beat, which leads me back to what my intuition is telling me. And while the example I show probably won't be the exact musical material I use for the Saturn movement, it does show the basic concept behind it, that being a high pitched glistening melody over an accompaniment(which in the Saturn movement will probably have countermelody as well as the arpeggios I have in the image).

So, for a slow 6/4, is it true that accenting every third quarter note will produce a 3/4 feel and that accenting every other quarter note will produce a 2/4 feel? Or do I have those backwards?

  • Normally the ambiguity in a 6/4 measure would be expressed as the ambiguity between the normal 6/4 compound duple meter (two groups of three quarter notes each per measure) and 3/2. Do you really mean to ask about 2/4 or are you using that to indicate 3/2? The examples in the question look like plain 6/4. Where is the polymeter?
    – phoog
    Apr 12, 2021 at 15:33
  • I do mean to ask about 2/4. And yes, the example I show is plain, normal 6/4, but you can imagine that if I had the cellos going S, w, w, S, w, w and the violas going S, w, S, w, S, w within the same 6/4 measure, that there would be a 3/4 2/4 polymeter
    – Caters
    Apr 12, 2021 at 18:37

1 Answer 1


In addition to accents, you could also use beaming (on the eighth notes) to indicate grouping. Accents and pedal markings also help as does slurring. Some pieces (alternating 3/4 and 6/8 which isn't uncommon) just write 3/4 and 6/8 in each measure. The only difficulty is that 6/4 (like 6/8) is a compound meter and almost always used to indicate triplets.

It might be simpler in your case to bar the measures as 3/4,3/4,2/4,2/4,2/4... (I suppose a note at the beginning could indicate that the 3+3,2+2+2 continues throughout the piece.)

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