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Music Meter, 6/8 Time & Cut Time

This Music Meter page is part 16 and 17 in a 31 part series on musical notation and basic music theory.

Which of these popular time signatures indicates six beats per measure with an eighth note "pulse"?

Yes, you guessed it...6/8 has six beats per measure where the eighth note is the beat or "pulse".

Again, the eighth note is still worth half a beat, but since it is the "pulse" in this time signature, we count it as the beat.

For a review on the top and bottom numbers, look at part 14, Common Time or 4/4 Time Signature

In the following video I play some chords in 6/8. It could be argued that I am playing 3/4 quickly, because I emphasize the downbeats on 1 and 4, thus making it 2 groups of 3 rather than 1 group of 6.

However, when you are playing groups of 3 this quickly, it pulls you into 6/8 time, which is a type of compound duple meter. I promise to explain as we progress.

6/8 TIME PART 16

This symbol stands for "cut time". The numeric way to write cut time is 2/2. This indicates that there are 2 beats per measure and the half note gets the beat.

NOTE: The best way to think of it is that a quarter note is worth 1 beat (or count), but different time signatures assign different notes as "the beat".

In the 5/4 example in the following video, I do sneak a measure of 6/4 into the piece. See if you catch it...


Other Music Meter

It is important to understand that the terms duple meter, triple meter and quadruple meter, tell us the number of beats in a measure. The terms simple and compound refer to how you divide the notes.

Simple means you can divide the beat into 2 notes.

Compound means you can divide the beat into 3 notes.

For an excellent visual explanation of simple, compound, duple, triple and quadruple meter go HERE

Once the new browser opens, just click below the yellow line and the visuals will appear.

In addition, below I have laid out the most frequently used time signatures with explanations and common usages.


2/2 (duple)
alla breve, cut time: used for marches and fast orchestral music. Frequently occurs in musical theater. Sometimes called "in 2".

4/4 (quadruple)
common time: widely used in most forms of Western classical and popular music. Most common time signature in rock, blues, country, funk, and pop

4/2 (quadruple)
common in early music; rarer since 1600, although Brahms and other composers used it occasionally.

2/4 (duple)
used for polkas or marches

3/4 (triple)
used for waltzes, minuets, scherzi, and country & western ballads.

3/8 (triple)
also used for the above, but usually suggests higher tempo or shorter hypermeter.


6/8 (duple)double jigs, polkas, fast obscure waltzes, marches and some rock music.

9/8 (triple)
"compound triple time", used in triple ("slip") jigs, otherwise occurring rarely (The Ride of the Valkyries and Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony are familiar examples.)

12/8 (quadruple)
classical music; also common in slower blues and doo-wop; also used more recently in rock music.

Lastly, additive time signatures or odd meters , like 5/4, 7/4 or 7/8 are not as common, but used correctly, they can be very powerful! Odd meters are really just groupings of 3 mixing with 2 and 4. Listen to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring for an example of mixing meters both odd and common.

Notable songs and songwriters that use odd music meter-

Money by Pink Floyd is in 7/4
Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel is in 7/4
Tom Sawyer by Rush is in 7/4
The Mission Impossible Theme is in 5/4
Four Sticks by Led Zeppelin is in 5/4
Heart of Glass by Blondie is in 7/4
All You Need is Love by the Beatles uses 7/4

Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Tool, Dave Brubeck and many other bands use odd meters to listeners delight!

Continue to Parts 18 & 19, Putting it All Together

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