When I gave a worksheet today, 2 of my students labeled this notation as 3/4 time, simple triple. Are they wrong or is this acceptable? If it's not acceptable, why? Is it simply because it wouldn't make sense to use 2 eighth rests at the end here in 3/4 time? 6/8 Compound Duple Measure

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    As Tim's answer suggests, it's best to make sure your questions aren't ambiguous in the first place. Mar 7, 2018 at 13:52
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    BTW, what would you have your students do with the well-known example of "America" from West Side Story? Mar 7, 2018 at 13:52
  • @Dom This question is about rests because the answer depends on the fact that the two quaver rests aren't written as a crotchet rest. Nov 7 at 1:47
  • @ElementsinSpace the question is not about rests. It's about time signatures and rhythm. If you replace the rests with notes it's the exact same answer. The fact you are looking at rests to determine the time signature is not an indication the question is about rests.
    – Dom
    Nov 7 at 1:50

5 Answers 5


6/8 is duple time - the bar is split into two equal parts. With the first note, a dotted crotchet, it makes the first half. There's no reason to have two quaver rests at the end in 6/8 - a crotchet rest will suffice. Having said that, it would also be fine in 3/4 time, which would query the dotted crotchet at the beginning, which may be more acceptable (in 3/4) as a crotchet tied to a quaver.

But, we see this sort of thing more and more - notes across the middle of 4/4 for example, so perhaps we just need to get used to what used to be called sloppy writing...

As an aside, should one give out work that one hasn't scrutinised for potential discrepancies, with all possible answers researched? Maybe another way to read it is using notes in place of rests. As in, would the last note have to be two tied quavers, or would a crotchet be acceptable?

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    A trailling crotchet rest is still considered incorrect in 6/8 I think. But there's no ambiguity here. Even if we accept that 6/8 MIGHT have a crotchet rest, we'd have to construct a very special situation for 3/4 to have two quaver ones.
    – Laurence
    Mar 7, 2018 at 11:11
  • @LaurencePayne - impeccable reasoning! Of course it's 6/8, and your answer says why it's not 3/4.
    – Tim
    Mar 7, 2018 at 11:16
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    @LaurencePayne That's only true in a fictional world where typesetters strictly follow rules. If the quiz in question stated "all examples follow the typesetting rules perfectly," then I agree. But in the real world of scrambled scores, then sans accents or additional measures to study, it's still indeterminate. Mar 7, 2018 at 13:54
  • All we can do is say that, assuming the publisher used the same convention of rest notation most of us apparently expect, it is probably in 6/8. However, it's still ambiguous. It could be written the same way in 3/4 and still be technically, if not stylistically, correct. Without a tempo marking or accompaniment, it doesn't really matter - the rhythm itself sounds the same either way. The only possible authoritative answer would be if this is in a course where students are required to group rests in a certain way, and this was taught clearly in the curriculum as the only acceptable method. Mar 7, 2018 at 15:52
  • @DarrenRinger - you're probably right. Although if a course only teaches one way, it's pretty poor. Be better to teach students to think for themselves, rather than blindly following 'rules'. Rant over...
    – Tim
    Mar 7, 2018 at 15:55

If this were 3/4, 'old' theory would demand the dotted quarter was written as a quarter tied to an 8th. OK, we don't always do that now. But in 3/4 the bar would be completed with a single quarter rest, not two 8ths. We can't wriggle out of that one! It's 6/8.

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    As to your first point: on the contrary, it has long been acceptable to have a dotted quarter (dotted crotchet) at the beginning of a bar of 3/4. I agree with your second point, though.
    – Rosie F
    Mar 7, 2018 at 15:46
  • You'll note that I said 'old' theory!
    – Laurence
    Mar 7, 2018 at 16:01
  • @LaurencePayne what do you consider “old”? I would always expect a dotted quarter in this situation in scores by the great classical composers, never a tie.
    – 11684
    Mar 10, 2018 at 16:11
  • Actually, 'classical' composers could be very lax about note grouping, particularly where syncopation was involved. The editions we use today have been 'tidied up' by later generations.
    – Laurence
    Mar 11, 2018 at 16:17
  • @LaurencePayne I wouldn’t expect critical scientific editions like Bärenreiter and Henle to change groupings needlessly, however, I was referring to these editions, not to manuscripts; when was this old theory used exactly? Do you have any sources?
    – 11684
    Mar 18, 2018 at 19:46

The grouping of the rest tells you it is 6/8 time.

If it was 3/4 time the last two quaver rests would be a crotchet rest as to better indicate the crotchet beats, this time signature has two beats of dotted crotchets that is better illustrated with the given rest grouping.

  • In your title, is 'rest' to mean 'what's left' or a 'musical silence'?
    – Tim
    Mar 7, 2018 at 14:05
  • @Tim Could it not be both? I bet they meant 'musical silence', tho
    – clinch
    Mar 7, 2018 at 15:27

To the best of my knowledge, they are not the same. 3/4 feels like there are 3 "binary" beats each bar. Think of waltz. 6/8 feels like there are only two beats and where each beat can be felt as having 3 subdivisions. So it's a matter of figuring out the "beats" that there are on the bar cause they feel completely different. Coming from Venezuela myself, I know in venezuelan music there are some types of music where they can be mixed (and which is very tricky to figure out for people from other countries). The best example I can think of right now is "Preludio Criollo" by Rodrigo Riera where he has the bass voice going on 3/4 and yet the main voice is going 6/8. Tricky to play. Talking about (venezuelan) genres, probably Pajarillo or other varieties of Joropo like "Seis por Derecho" are the hardest to pick up.

  • Same thing for Isaac Albeniz. Many pieces are marked 6/8 but can switch, e.g. "Rondeña" of the Iberia suite, alternates all the time between 6/8 and 3/4 bars.
    – Wolfgang
    Mar 10, 2018 at 20:44

For the most part: the best way I explain it my lead guitarist; (Who plays as well as Chet Atkins did, but my guy can't read music); is to just think of it as a waltz no matter what and follow my bass guitar. I have only noticed it wrote that way in hymnals usually. They use 6/8, 9/8 and so forth to control the layout of the music to fit one or two pages at the most. For example "Softly and Tenderly" is written in my hymnal as 6/8 but I can just as easily convert it to 3/4 and it will play exactly the same way. It just requires more bars to write it out. Double the amount of bars in this case.


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