What do the numbers above the staff mean? In this case 8. 8. 8. 6. enter image description here


1 Answer 1


Those numbers represent the meter the verses. That is the number of syllables in each line of each stanza. Generally, though there are exceptions, songs with the same meter can be sung with the same melody.

  • To nitpick just a little bit: having the same number of syllables doesn't always guarantee that two songs can be sung to the same melody, as the stresses could be different between them. But generally what you've said is true, especially for the most common meters.
    – hopper
    Jan 11, 2017 at 21:25
  • That's true. I embarrassed myself once by picking the only pair in my church hymnal that doesn't work to demonstrate. So you're right. I'll change it to generally. Jan 11, 2017 at 21:27
  • Thank for the explanations! Does it have anything to do with the speed of playing/singing?? I was told it did... but not by an expert.
    – user35979
    Jan 11, 2017 at 23:25
  • Not really a whole lot. As hopper said the difference is with which syllables are empahsized. It would basically break in a way that is similar to how counting the wrong time during a piece fails it just feels wrong. You can try to force it but sometimes it just doesn't fit. If you're using a hymnal it might have an index of meters. In which case you can look there to see a song that you know and one that you don't. You could then try singing the words of the one that you don't to the melody that you do. I'll update my answer with some images to reflect that. Jan 11, 2017 at 23:31
  • I tried singing a few just now. If your friend meant "Sometimes it you have to sing it faster to make it fit" yes but no. You might have to sing the words faster to make it sound like you are accustomed to, but it should work at any tempo. Jan 12, 2017 at 0:06

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