Music theory > Lessons > Duration of sounds > Time signature > 12/8 time signature example

12/8 time signature example

Explanation of 12/8 time signature

In the article time signature, this is explained that:

- the top number indicates the number of time units in a measure (bar united kingdom).
- the bottom number determines the unit of time.

We can visually translate time signature 12/8 like this:

time signature 12/8

That is to say that there are 12 eighth notes eighth note (quaver) (quavers united kingdom) per measure.

But, what is not indicated in the time signature is that time signature 12/8 can to a simple meter measure or a compound meter. In the article simple and compound meter, you learned that:

- Simple meter (or simple time) is a meter where each beat in a measure can be subdivided by two.
- Compound meter (or compound time) is a meter where each beat in a measure can be subdivided by three.

A beat with 12/8 time signature can be divided by two or three, it depends on the context.

Here are the beats for a simple meter time signature 12/8 measure:

Beats in 12/8 time signature

In that case (simple meter):

- 1 eighth note eighth note (quaver)(quaver united kingdom) equals 1 beat
- 2 sixteenth sixteenth note (semiquaver) notes (semiquavers united kingdom) equals 1 beat
- 1 dotted quarter notedotted quarter note (dotted crotchet) (dotted crotchet united kingdom) equals 3 beats
- and so on...

Here are the beats for a compound meter time signature 12/8 measure:

Beats in 12/8 time signature

- 1 dotted quarter notedotted quarter note (dotted crotchet) (dotted crotchet united kingdom) equals 1 beat
- 1 dotted half note (dotted minim united kingdom) equals 2 temps
- 3 eighth note eighth note (quaver)(quaver united kingdom) equals 1 beat
- 6 sixteenth sixteenth note (semiquaver) notes (semiquavers united kingdom) equals 1 beat
- etc...

In the vast majority of cases, a 12/8 bar is a 4 beats compound measure, where each beat equals a dotted quarter note dotted quarter note (dotted crotchet) (dotted crotchet united kingdom):

Beats in 12/8 time signature

Examples found in famous works

Chopin, Nocturne opus 9 n°2

Frédéric Chopin's Nocturne opus 9 n°2 in E flat Major uses the 12/8 time signature:


(Royalty free soun sample performed by pianist Samson François in 1964, Creative Commons Zero 1.0 license, source)

You will notice the use of gruppetto (measure 2), mordents (measure 5), trills (measure 7), appoggiaturas (measure 8), and the use of an anacrusis.

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