I am trying to do this for something I've written (4/4 in verse, 6/8 in chorus) but it's difficult to get in and out of smoothly, so I'm wondering how other people have tackled this.

For my song, if you were counting along, the capitalized beats are chord changes, and there is no tempo change in the counts of eighth notes from one section to the next:

Verse (4/4): ONE two three FOUR five six seven eight

Chorus (6/8): ONE two three FOUR five six

Any thoughts on my specific situation or any songs as said that have tackled this type of key change effectively without alienating too many listeners would be appreciated.

Doing time signature changes without losing the listener can be challenging.

  • 6
    In the 4/4 should it be ONE two three four FIVE six seven eight?
    – Tim
    Mar 12, 2018 at 7:37
  • I can't think of anything mainstream, but I wrote and recorded an instrumental that switches between these two time signatures. If it helps in any way, feel free to check it out: tomweissmusic.com/timetravel
    – trw
    Mar 12, 2018 at 16:50
  • 1
    "The late great Johnny Ace" by Paul Simon is in 4/4, except for the bridges. The transition is extremely rough. "Lucy in the sky with diamonds" has verses in 3/4, chorus in 4/4. I've never figured out what happens in The Band's "Jawbone" - some of the time it's in 4/4, some of the time it's in 6/8. Jun 17, 2018 at 4:48
  • Some more songs: "49 bye byes" - Crosby, Stills and Nash; "Lover's lullaby" - Janis Ian. The first starts in 3/4 then moves seamlessly to 4/4, whereas the second starts in 4/4 and moves to 3/4. Sep 5, 2018 at 8:33
  • One way to make it easier to sight-read would be to write 4/4 (=8/8) at the start of the 4/4 section. This makes it obvious that the "counting unit" is the eighth note. Otherwise, some people would play the 6/8 section as though it were 2/4 with triplets.
    – ttw
    Nov 11, 2020 at 8:37

6 Answers 6


No examples but some thoughts:

  1. Make sure there is a reason for the change, and not just because you want to. I mean, there should be something happening in the music and/or the lyrics that helps communicate what you are trying to say that means the verse must be 4/4 and the chorus must be 6/8. Creating contrast is effective, so if you know why you are creating this metrical contrast, that will help you make it happen effectively.
  2. Take your 4/4 tempo and apply it to the 6/8 measures on the dotted quarter note. For example, if you've got 60 quarter notes per minute in 4/4, then you want to have 60 dotted quarter notes per minute at 6/8. Making the tempo change along with the meter change will do a lot to smooth out the meter change.
  3. Trying writing a change from 4/4 to 2/4 instead and then see if you feel the need for triplets in the 2/4 section. If the 2/4 section is mostly triplet feel, then you should change it to 6/8 as a compound march (with the tempo adjustment as above). If 2/4 works for the chorus without a lot of triplets, then you really want a 2/4 chorus and not 6/8 at all.
  • 1
    Just to clarify your 2nd point: if 60bpm is 4/4, then would the 6/8 still be 60bpm (a beat meaning dotted quarter)? If so, would there actually be a tempo change? I think not, making the transition pretty smooth.
    – Tim
    Mar 12, 2018 at 17:14
  • @Tim It depends on whether you see that as a tempo change or not. If you're using Musescore, then you will want to explicitly mark that tempo change because it considers quarter note = 60 bpm to apply in the 6/8 measure as well (as opposed to a "beat" running at 60 bpm) and the music will seem to speed up to 90 bpm. So you have to put in a dotted quarter = 60 bpm "tempo change" to keep it smooth. If you're not using software, then whatever makes it clear to the player is all that is required, I assume. Mar 12, 2018 at 17:37

No time sig. change is going to be smooth. The piece is going along at whatever pace, the listener is tapping along and suddenly there's a change, which throws it all out of kilter. Even going from 4/4 to 3/4 or 5/4 will sound like there's been a mistake until a few bars have elapsed and the listener settled again.

It's one of the ploys used by some composers to add some unrest into a piece.

Going from 4/4 into 6/8 using the pulse as you suggest can be problematic, as the 'beats' in 4/4 are crotchets, while (in your case) the 6/8 'beats' are quavers. So a tempo change too, as well as a change of feel. Although here, you've addressed it by counting the 4/4 as 8/8.

Another way to go would be thinking of 6/8 as two 'beats', each having three triplets. Still a tempo (and feel) change, but at least another option.

  • 1
    "No time sig. change is going to be smooth" False. Just last week I wrote the exact time signature change the asker wants to write and you wouldn't even know it happened. Basically, the melody we want to use for the chorus would be almost entirely triplets in 4/4 time so we changed to 6/8 (there's also a march feel happening there but we could have faked that in 4/4). Mar 12, 2018 at 16:52
  • @ToddWilcox - interesting. That 4/4 triplets could have been 12/8 - often written in 4/4 to be played with a swing feel. I do a song in similar vein, and the guitar player swears it speeds up for the swing part. It doesn't, it simply changes feel. I hope I understood what you say.
    – Tim
    Mar 12, 2018 at 16:57
  • Sorry, I might have been unclear - we didn't want triplets at all in the 4/4 section. If we had kept it in 4/4, then the section that became 6/8 would have had a lot of triplets. We were writing to accompany lyrics that we pre-written and the lyrics had an "in-threes" flow to them. We also made a tempo change at the same time as the meter change as mentioned in my answer, which helped keep the music flowing smoothly through the change. Mar 12, 2018 at 17:01
  • Smooth is a choice by the composer. Stravinsky used this to create great unease in The Rite of Spring. Conversely King Crimson and many progressive rock bands change time signature with abandon and it sounds smooth as butter. Time signature changes can absolutely be smooth--if the melody carries it through.
    – user96622
    Jul 27, 2021 at 16:49

"We Can Work It Out" by The Beatles is a pretty famous song with a 4/4 to 6/8 transition (the eighth note stays constant). Despite the time change, it's been an incredibly popular tune.

"All You Need Is Love" is another Beatles song in odd meter. Depending on your counting preference the verse is in 7/4 or alternating bars of 4/4 and 3/4.


If you want the transition to be smooth, the eighth note needs to stay the same length. I wrote a piece that went from 2/4 to 6/8 in alternating measures. The beats are a little longer in the 6/8 to accommodate the third eighth notes. (If I had combined the rhythm into one measure based on a quarter note, it would have been in 5/4 time but someone I consulted about the piece preferred reading 2/4 then 6/8.) A triplet is not the same thing because it would cause the 8th notes to be a bit smaller to fit all three into one beat.


Opeth - Windowpane

The first few parts switch between 6/8 and 4/4. They seem to have introduced two solutions for your problem:

  1. The pulse of parts is matched (as suggested in other answers),
  2. The 4/4 part consists of 6 bars, so if you count beats 1..6 through whole song you should consistently end up on beat 1 when ANY bar begins.

Side note: the off-beat accent in 4/4 seam to ease the transition to me. Again, it stays consistent with 6/8's accents

Here is a link to a drum score for the piece: https://goo.gl/q6OhXx


Is the song a cappella or accompanied? If it's accompanied, the instruments can help in the pre-chorus (or end of verse), by establishing the 6/8 metre before the singers get to sing in it. Given the way the 4/4 is divided, you would need at least 2 6/8 bars there, in order to help the singers. (If the singers were still thinking in 4/4, a single 6/8 bar wouldn't get them to come in on the ONE because they'd think of that as the "seven" of a 4/4 bar.)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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