Music theory > Lessons > Duration of sounds > Time signature > 6/8 time signature example

6/8 time signature example

Explanation of 6/8 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 6/8 like this:

time signature 6/8

That is to say that there are 6 eighth notes eighth note (quaver) (quavers united kingdom) per measure.

But, what is not indicated in the time signature is that time signature 6/8 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 6/8 time signature can be divided by two or three, it depends on the context.

Here are the beats for a simple meter time signature 6/8 measure:

Beats in 6/8 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 6/8 measure:

Beats in 6/8 time signature

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

In the vast majority of cases, a 6/8 bar is a 2 beats compound measure, where each beat equals a dotted quarter note dotted quarter note (dotted crotchet) (dotted crotchet united kingdom):

Beats in 6/8 time signature

Examples found in famous works

Ludwig van Beethoven, String Quartet N° 16, Opus 135

The movement Lento assai, cantante e tranquilo from String Quartet N° 16, Opus 135 by Ludwig van Beethoven uses the 6/8 time signature:

String Quartet No.16, Op.135 (Ludwig van Beethoven)

This musical sample in D flat major was recorded by the Borromeo String Quartet (source, CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 license)

Chopin, Nocturne opus 27 n°2

Frédéric Chopin's Nocturne opus 27 n°2 in D flat major uses the 6/8 time signature:


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

You will notice the use of double flats in measure 8, and the use of a gruppetto in measure 7.

Chopin, Nocturne opus 9 n°3

Frédéric Chopin's Nocturne opus 9 n°3 uses the 6/8 time signature:


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

You will notice the use of double sharps, just after the anacrusis, as well as the use of rhythms known as siciliano rhythms.

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