Looking into 6/8 on the Internet, I've learnt that the beat is not 6 eighth/quaver notes but 2 dotted quarter/crotchet notes.

So that's cool, but I've also read about beats in a measure being either strong or weak, and I've seen a few sites mention that, for 6/8 time, the beats go

s w w s w w

which is 6 beats, not 2. This is confusing.

How do I resolve this apparent discrepancy? What is the rhythm (or beat pattern) for 6/8?

  • 3
    When you count music with complex rhythms, there are often strong beats and weak beats, different options to count. Generally how fast the music is decides on which you count for 6/8. You can feel the strong 2 pulses or the weak 6 pulses. Whichever makes more sense for that piece. It's kind of like asking if a table is 75cm tall or 0.75m . The answer is yes to both, and that there's a "metre" pun that I'm missing somewhere here.
    – Some_Guy
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 9:29
  • 3
    Possible duplicate of Does 3/4 time signature differ from 6/8?
    – guidot
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 14:07
  • 2
    @guidot - It's true that the two questions cover some of the same territory, but I disagree that they're duplicates. This one is specifically about 6 beats vs 2 within 6/8 - no mention of 3/4, where the other one was trying to clear up confusion about the fact that the measures superficially resemble each other in the two time signatures. Quite a different emphasis.
    – L3B
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 14:40
  • Keep in mind that tempo matters; with a slow 6/8, it might be easier to count out all 6 beats than trying to feel it in 2.
    – John Doe
    Commented Dec 29, 2017 at 18:02

4 Answers 4


The main use of 6/8 time is to indicate a rhythm organized as a measure of two eighth-note triplets. Count ONE-two-thee-FOUR-five-six, etc; the ONE gets slightly more stress than the FOUR. An identical structure would be writing a 2/4 measure with all triplets, but that's supposedly harder to read. Historically, 6/8 has been used for this pattern. Some marches (Simper Fidelis and The Washington Post March for example) and many jigs (and gigues) have this pattern.

The 6/8 time signature is an example of a compound time signature.

  • 1
    I would be wary about using the word triplet to describe this three note group. Any type of tuplet (duplet, triplet, quadruplet, quintuplet, etc) is a description of a group of notes played in the space of another group of notes. A triplet describes a group of three notes played in the space of, most commonly, two notes.
    – user33368
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 3:27
  • 6/8 time is 6 eighth notes but the common practice is to group them into two groups of three so that you would only count, and it also be conducted, in two. So essentially one beat is the length of a dotted quarter, which equals three eighths. So the three eighth notes are played in the space of three eighth notes so they are technically not triplets.
    – user33368
    Commented Nov 17, 2016 at 3:28

The BEATS in 6/8 go 1,2,1,2....

The NOTES (if they're a constant stream of 8ths) go swwsww swwsww... The s (strong) notes come on the beats.

I imagine you wouldn't be in the slightest worried about a bar of 4/4 containing 8 x 8th notes. That's 8 notes, but 4 beats. It's just that 6/8 has the bottom number 8, so you want to count 8ths.

Think of 6/8 as 2/ .... well, that's the problem. There isn't a bottom number that indicates a dotted half beat. I can show you in notation:

enter image description here


It is easiest when trying to count. Although 3/4 and 6/8 look superficially similar how they are counted differs much.

Think of 3/4 as a waltz rhythm. How do you dance the waltz, it is 1,2 1,2 1,2? Think about how the dancers move when they dance the waltz.

A compound Time Signature now has pulses with dots next to them but the underlying number of pulses remains the same.

So remember 6/8 time is Compound Duple Time it is, in fact, more similar to 2/4 time than 3/4. The only difference between 6/8 and 2/4 is that instead of crotchet beats you now have dotted crotchet beats.

So 6/8 time you will count 1,2,3 1,2,3 with the emphasis usually on the first beat.

Now about triplets. Triplet does not change the beats, you still have exactly the same amount of beats you just play a certain amount of notes instead of the regular.

So in 2/4 with triplets, you would still have your two main crotchet beats you will only really play three notes in the time of one beat. (For quaver triplets at least.)

In 2/4 time with triplets, you would count 1,2 and just play the three notes in a beat but with 6/8 time it is just 1,2,3 1,2,3. So there are differences in the way you would approach playing those rhythms.


To amplify on Laurence's answer as well as the fourth paragraph of Neil's:

There's a whole 'family' of time signatures (called Compound) in which the basic beat is a dotted something. In 6/8 it's a dotted quarter. But most time signatures in which the top number is a multiple of 3 work the same way (provided the bottom number is 4 or larger). For example, 3/8 is one beat per measure, 6/8 is two, 9/8 is three, and 12/8 is four. Similarly, if the tempo is fast enough to justify it, 12/4 is four beats per measure, dotted half per beat, 6/4 is two beats, again dotted half per beat.

Likewise, 3/16 is one beat per measure, basic beat being a dotted eight. Etc. Etc.

The real key to the whole concept is in the fourth paragraph of Neil's answer, if you extend it to include /4 and /16 signatures as well as /8.

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