What are the beats in the underlined notes? How can I count them? enter image description here

  • 1
    Are you asking how long to hold them, what syllables to speak, or something else?
    – Aaron
    Oct 26, 2021 at 3:24
  • There are notes of three lengths in this example: eight notes, quarter notes and dotted quarter notes. Do you distinguish them and understand the difference? Oct 26, 2021 at 4:53
  • @Aaron I'd like to know both. Edit: I think I know what to speak, we were just told to say the numbers. I guess i just need to know how long to hold them - the duration of each notes
    – silvy1051
    Oct 26, 2021 at 6:41
  • @user1079505 i understand the eighth notes (3rd - 4th measure) but im not sure how to count the dotted quarters and especially the ones in the last two measures (the combination of quarters and eighth notes)
    – silvy1051
    Oct 26, 2021 at 6:43
  • A fast 6/8 usually feels like there are just two beats (pulses) in a measure, each subdivided into 3 even eighths as in your top line (characteristic of a tarantella) or like your bottom line--subdivided into two quarter-note + eighth note groups (characteristic of another Italian dance, the salterello, which has hopping steps.)
    – DjinTonic
    Dec 23, 2021 at 19:03

5 Answers 5


Let's address the important word in your question: beat. If this is the first time you've encountered 6/8, there might be some overgeneralizations that need to be corrected.

You already seem clear on one important point: there's a difference between beat and rhythm. Notes of different durations come and go, but they fit into a "grid" of equal-sized beats. In 4/4 meter, you might have a measure full of sixteenth notes, but the beat is still quarter notes.

There's a useful term popularized by Terry Pratchett and a couple of mathematicians, lies-to-children. Not that the lies are malicious or that all learners are children, but that sometimes foundational over-simplifications that are not the whole truth are needed so we can build more nuanced truths on them later.

As beginners, we are shown a quarter note and told, "This is a quarter note. It is one beat." The truth in the fine print is, it's one beat for right now, but other note values can be beats too.

Then we're shown time signatures and maybe told "The top number tells you how many beats are in the measure, and the bottom number tells you what kind of note is the beat." By this logic, 6/8 means that eighth notes are beats and there are six of them in the measure. But that's not necessarily accurate. In a very slow 6/8 you may well feel all six eighth notes as beats, but if things get faster, you tend to group them into a larger "beat."

Consider this jig: Like most jigs, it's in 6/8. Try counting to 6 out loud with it. Even better, trying waving your arm around like a conductor to mark out six beats.

You wind up looking like a windmill; those eighths are too fast to be "felt" as beats. Instead, if you try to move simply to the music—to walk or bend at the knees—you probably wind up moving twice per measure (every three of those fast eighth notes). This is compound meter: the big beats divide naturally into groups of three. Most instances of 6/8 are in fact "compound duple" meter: "duple" means there are really just two beats per bar, and "compound" means they subdivide into three.

So what "kind of notes" are these two big beats? Well, we know that a quarter note contains two eighth notes. So three eighth notes equals a dotted quarter note, and that's our beat.

This is where you can start to correct those lies-to-children:

  • A quarter note is a beat —But if you're in compound duple meter, it's just two-thirds of a beat.
  • The bottom number in the time signature tells you what kind of note is the beat —Except, in compound meters, it tells you about the subdivision instead.

Why? Well, because it would be confusing to try to represent a dotted-quarter note in a numerical time signature (2 over 1.5? no thanks).

So in your 6/8 example, unless it's rather slow and meant to be counted in 6 (a fairly rare exception), the answer to "What are the beats?" is "dotted quarter notes are."

In the first couple of measures, you should feel the two big beats per measure, line up your dotted quarter notes with that pulse, and at the same time imagine three smaller notes within each one. By the third bar those imaginary subdivisions become real eighth notes. As the answers show, there are many different vocalizations you could use to count your way through (I might add "One and a Two and a"). All that matters is, whatever you call them, that you keep track of the "two big beats" and the three subdivisions of each.

  • We represent a quarter note beat by a 4 in the lower number of the time signature, and a half note beat by 2. One possible interpretation of this is that 4 is from 1/4 because a quarter is 1/4 of a whole note. So by the same logic, since a dotted quarter is 3/8 of a whole note, 6/8 represented in dotted-quarter would be 2/(3/8) or 2/0.375. Yikes.
    – Divide1918
    Nov 4, 2021 at 16:09
  • @Divide1918 True, but that logic only goes so far. "A whole note is a whole measure" is a lie-to-children that breaks down as soon as you leave Common Time. After all, there's plenty of early baroque stuff in signatures like 4/2 (a holdover from "white-note" mensural notation)—A whole note is half a measure? 8-o Nov 4, 2021 at 16:40
  • "Whole note" can be regarded as simply a word for convenience as well, instead of only signifying that it must be the duration of a whole measure, imo. Personally, I'm perfectly comfortable with saying that a whole note is half a measure of 4/2. Also, I'm not aware of any other way of addressing the "whole note" in the context of, e.g. 4/2, in US terminologies.
    – Divide1918
    Nov 4, 2021 at 16:59
  • (Test; I couldn't tag you in my previous reply)
    – Divide1918
    Nov 5, 2021 at 0:51
  • A quarter note is the equivalent of two eighth notes (no matter what the time signature is).

  • A dotted quarter note is the equivalent of three eighth notes (no matter what the time signature is).

  • 6/8 time means "there are six eighth notes — or the equivalent — in each measure".

Thus the duration of each notation in terms of eighth notes is:

3  3  |  3  3  |  1 1 1    1 1 1  |  1 1 1    1 1 1  |
3  3  |  3  3  |  2   1    2   1  |  2   1    2   1  |

There are a variety of syllabic or numeric ways to count. My personal favorite is "Ta - Ki - Da" (Tah kee dah), which corresponds to each of three eighth notes. So the whole pattern would be

Ta - - Ta - - | Ta - - Ta - - | Ta Ki Da  Ta Ki Da | Ta Ki Da  Ta Ki Da |
Ta - - Ta - - | Ta - - Ta - - | Ta -  Da  Ta -  Da | Ta -  Da  Ta -  Da |

...where the dashes indicated a held syllable.

There are at least two ways to count with numbers.

  1. Counting the duration of each individual note.
1-2-3  1-2-3 | 1-2-3  1-2-3 | 1 1 1  1 1 1 | 1 1 1  1 1 1 |
1-2-3  1-2-3 | 1-2-3  1-2-3 | 1-2 1  1-2 1 | 1-2 1  1-2 1 |
  1. Counting six eighth notes in each measure (my preferred way).
1-2-3  4-5-6 | 1-2-3  4-5-6 | 1 2 3  4 5 6 | 1 2 3  4 5 6 |
1-2-3  4-5-6 | 1-2-3  4-5-6 | 1-2 3  4-5 6 | 1-2 3  4-5 6 |
  • 1
    There's also "one-and-a-two-and-a..."
    – phoog
    Oct 26, 2021 at 8:38

Although they're not strictly triplets, I count '1-trip-let-2-trip-let' for each bar.

That puts the 1st bar as note 1 '1-trip-let' 2nd note '2-trip-let'.

Bar 2 is a note for each syllable.

4th bar is '1-trip' 'let' '2-trip' 'let'.

A student of mine prefers 'el-e-phant-el-e-phant' for a full 6/8 bar, and there's nothing wrong with that - is there?


You divide to the smallest sub division and double the note values upwards from there. So if your smallest / shortest note value is a quaver then you make that one. A crotchet you would hold for two counts and a dotted crotchet for three counts.

So for you first example 1-2-3, 1-2-3 and in the second example 1-2, 1, 1-2, 1.


6/8 = (3 + 3) or (2+1) + (2+1) whereby quarter notes have the length of of 2 eighth notes, while dotted quarter notes have the lengthe of 3 eighth notes.

you can count as you like (1,2,3,4,5,6)


bars 1-2 ta-a-a ta-a-a (=dotted fourth notes)

bars 7-8 ta-a-ta ta-a-ta (= fourth and eighth note)

What are the beats in the underlined notes? How can I count them?

The bold syllables are accentuated:

In 6/8 measure the beats are 1,2,3,4,5,6 (each eighth note is a beat.

enter image description here

In faster tempo only the 1. and the 4. are counted as a beat. enter image description here

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