Lately I've been playing (in big band) a couple of 'jazz waltzes' - namely All Blues and Bluesette, as references - and one of my own compositions. They're written in 3/4, but always get counted in using two bars. Sort of making them more like 6/8, as they're none of them slow 3/4 tunes. I keep thinking they ought to be written as 6/8, but they're not. Is the reason that 3/4 is maybe easier to write and read, even though every 2nd bar only has about the same emphasis as the 2nd half of a 6/8 bar? My tune has that same feel as well. I guess there's the possibility of 6/4, but they're definitely written in 3/4, although I've had a trawl, and All Blues appears to be in all three incarnations.

Question is, which is preferable for a standard jazz waltz, and for what reasons?.

  • 1
    Note, waltzes aren't always slow. The original Viennese waltz can be quite lively; it's the American "Cinderella at the ball" tradition that turns it into a slow-dance. Dec 21, 2022 at 15:46
  • Is “trawl” a typo or is “having a trawl” an idiom of some kind? Dec 21, 2022 at 16:29
  • "All Blues" isn't a waltz.
    – Aaron
    Dec 21, 2022 at 17:02
  • @Aaron - I label it as a jazz waltz.
    – Tim
    Dec 21, 2022 at 17:12
  • @ToddWilcox - it means looking through lots of options already posted.
    – Tim
    Dec 21, 2022 at 17:15

3 Answers 3


Since a jazz waltz written in 3/4 almost always has a two-bar feel it would make more sense to rewrite it in 6/4, and I've often seen jazz waltzes notated that way. On the other hand, 6/4 can be harder to read. It's a matter of choice: both 3/4 and 6/4 work.

A jazz waltz in 6/8 would look very strange for the same reason a standard swing tune in 4/8 would look strange.
Here's an example of how ugly 6/8 can be (The beginning of a transcription of Wayne Shorter's solo on 'All Blues' from V.S.O.P. 'Tribute to Miles'):

enter image description here

For comparison here's the start of George Coleman's solo on the same tune (but a different recording) notated in 6/4: enter image description here

  • Thanks for a swift response. Bluesette has several postings in 6/8, if you care to look. Odd to me too. Guess it might be like swing time - notated one way, played another.
    – Tim
    Dec 21, 2022 at 15:40
  • 2
    @Tim The main reason 6/8 looks wrong is the fact that the eighths are straight and the sixteenths swung.
    – PiedPiper
    Dec 21, 2022 at 16:17
  • Interesting that in one bar there's C#7, and the very next there's Db7. And both have different chord changes from what I'm used to.
    – Tim
    Dec 21, 2022 at 16:23
  • 1
    @Tim Those transcriptions are not necessarily correct.
    – PiedPiper
    Dec 21, 2022 at 16:28
  • As you're probably well aware, I don't believe a lot on the 'net, but they're there nevertheless.
    – Tim
    Dec 21, 2022 at 17:14

Great question, +1. Regarding songs in 3/4 time being counted in using 2 bars, isn’t that more of less the same as going 1,2,1234 in 4/4 time? To me the purpose of either is to give the band the opportunity to feel the tempo better and have a little more prep time before the downbeat.

When I think of 6/8 in the historic and traditional sense I think of music that has a 2 pulse triplet feel, TA ta ta TA ta ta etc. This is not what jazz waltzes are or feel like. On top of that you would have to apply a swing 16th feel to make it swing. Playing swing feel on 8th notes in 3/4 time on a jazz waltz is common but swing 16th notes in 6/8 is not typically done.

If you think of songs like “Someday My Prince Will Come” or “Alice in Wonderland” performed in a jazz style there is a strong sense of a bar every 3 beats, both melodically and rhythmically. The melody and harmony both generally move in increments of a bar. A fast tempo may make a 3/4 jazz song feel like 2 bars is one bar but that is not enough of a reason in my opinion to write in say, 6/4 when players historically conceptualize these types of songs in 3.

Those reasons plus the fact that the use of 3/4 is already firmly established as the way pieces with this feel are notated makes a good case for sticking with 3/4.

  • I did consider the 1,2,1234 count in, but it isn't universal. In one band, all we got were 6 grunts! Funny how a 100 piece orchestra only gets the last upbeat... I am trying to differentiate between two quick bars of 3/4 and one bar of 6/8, that to me, can feel pretty much the same. Hence the question. Some Day, yes, played that many times, and somehow, 3/4 is more appropriate. Probably the phrasing.
    – Tim
    Dec 22, 2022 at 8:23
  • @Tim You’re right, there is no universal way to count off a song, but that is true of any time signature. To me the main difference is that in a jazz waltz I feel every beat, 3 in every bar. In 6/8 I feel 2 pulses per bar and the 8th notes are triplet subdivisions. In order to write jazz in 6/8 you must then subdivide the 8ths into swing 16ths. It is not intuitive. Dec 22, 2022 at 15:05

A waltz, particularly the faster sort, is potentially counted 'in one'. And musical 'ones' tend to group with either one or two neighbours, becoming 'twos' or 'threes'. But I see no harm in notating a jazz waltz in 3/4. We're used to swinging 8ths not 16ths.

I wouldn't make too much out of the two-bar count-in. A swing 4 is normally counted in '1,2,1-2-3-4'. Doesn't mean it should be written in 8/4.

  • Not thought about it before, but while swing 4 is counted in 1-2-1234, straight 4 is usually 1234, even for the same tempo. Strange! As the beats themselves are exactly the same, it's their sub-division which is different. Maybe that's what gives a dep drummer a clue...
    – Tim
    Dec 24, 2022 at 10:00

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