I'm teaching a dance class in Waltz, the music is of course in 3/4 time.

I wanted a way to describe to the students the beats in 2 consecutive bars, which I thought of as describing as '6/4' - I know that this is a mangling of time signatures. My co-teacher said to me she always thought of two bars of waltz as '6/8'.

Is either option 'correct', or is there a better way to describe the beats in this situation? As the description is for dancers to understand and not musicians to play, I don't need an answer which is 100.0% in accordance with the rules of music theory.

4 Answers 4


6/4 isn't a mangling of time signatures, it's fine.

Your co-teacher is welcome to continue thinking of it as 6/8, if that works for him or her. For me, as a musician, I think of 6/8 as a time signature that's usually used for tunes that have a rather faster tempo than what you would typically use when teaching people to dance the waltz, so I personally prefer your 6/4 idea.

I have taught the waltz many time to people one-on-one, and I understand completely why you want to teach them to count to 6 instead of 3 -- it's because things can get very confused between the two partners if one of them doesn't alternate the starting foot for each measure.

Many of the people coming to a beginning waltz class aren't comfortable with terms like "measure". I think it's fine for you to explain that waltzes are generally written in three, but that it can be useful to think of it as being written in 6. (The fine print being that in waltzes that people dance to, the measures always come in pairs.)

  • 1
    "I understand completely why you want to teach them to count to 6 instead of 3 -- it's because things can get very confused between the two partners if one of them doesn't alternate the starting foot for each measure." Yes, exactly yes. This is exactly why I use this approach. I should have made this clear in the question.
    – Payson
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 1:47
  • @Payson - Your quote is all bold -- may I take it you agree with that sentence? If you find my answer helpful, may I suggest you indicate that by clicking on the little upward-pointing triangle? Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 1:53
  • Yes, I do agree with your comment; triangle clicked :-)
    – Payson
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 3:06
  • @Payson - Thank you for accepting the answer, glad it was helpful. By the way, you clicked the checkmark; you might also want to vote on the answer by clicking on the upward-pointing triangle above the zero. Commented Dec 5, 2015 at 5:35
  • @aparente001 Well, six years on, it seems Payson never found the up arrow. :-) But +1 from me for the insight of how and why it's helpful for waltzers to think in six.
    – Aaron
    Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 5:13

How you count 6/8 and 6/4 is relatively the same. They are both compound time signatures with two groups of three beats making a total of 6 beats in each measure. You would count each of them as:

1 2 3 4 5 6

The bolded beats represent the strong beats that make up the two different groups. However, based on what you described I would suggest keeping it in 3/4 and count it the following way.

1 2 3 2 2 3

Counting this way let's you keep the 2 grouping, but it also keeps the measures independent.

  • Your 1 2 3 2 2 3 idea will work great for musicians, but most beginning ballroom dance students will have trouble with this. Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 18:25
  • 1 2 3 2 2 3 works for me - it also works for any TV show/movie where they show people practising ballroom dancing; it's almost a trope.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 22:21

Since you are trying to explain 2 bars of music, in 3/4 time, it needs only to be called 2 bars of 3/4. The beat is measured in crotchets (quarter notes), and there is no need to change that. Were it in 3/8 time, still 2 bars rather than 6/8 is more appropriate. It may work if you call it 6/4, but why complicate it. Dancers can count up to two easily - and will have to for what you are trying to explain, anyway!


No a Waltz is triple time. 6/8 time is not triple time. It is compound duple time. Which means you have two beats in the bar not three. In 6/8 time you have two beats of dotted crotchets and in 6/4 time you have two beats of dotted minims.

There is an inherent swing feel to compound time signatures that you can definitely dance to it just won be a waltz. A dance that is defined by a triple beat with an emphasis on the strong beat.


While a waltz are triple time that does not mean they are automatically 3/4 time. Other triple time signatures like 3/2 or 3/8 are also fine time signatures for a waltz

  • You typically count compound meter like 6/8 in groups of 3 so while there may be 2 strong beats per measure, you split them into two groups of 3 each which has a strong beat which fits the feel of a waltz quite nicely.
    – Dom
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 6:48
  • Why are you assuming all the notes will be quavers if you have a crotchet followed by a quaver the rhythm will be nothing like that of a waltz
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 6:50
  • I'm just talking purely from how you count the beats which is all the OP wants. And even then it's still got the distinct 3 feel like you would have like with a half note - quarter note patter that's pretty common in waltzes in 3/4.
    – Dom
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 6:56
  • As was 5/4 at the beginning of the 20th century... (edit)
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 8:46
  • Thank you. Well, that said, I hope I can Waltz to Lady Gaga - Hold My Hand (From “Top Gun: Maverick”) which is apparently 6/8 time. music.youtube.com/watch?v=O2CIAKVTOrc Also Boyz II Men - End of the Road music.youtube.com/watch?v=zDKO6XYXioc Commented Jun 19, 2022 at 19:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.