6/8 Time Signature: More on Rhythm

Hi friends!

Today’s video is an important rhythm discussion – what is 6/8 time signature, and how does it differ from 3/4? Counting in 6/8 is different than counting in simple time signatures (like 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4), so be sure to get your math brain ready for this video!

Quick review of 4/4

Any time you have a 4 on the bottom, it’s representing a quarter beat. 4, quarter, get it? And the top number is telling you how many. So 2/4 is like saying there’s two quarter beats in a bar, 3/4 says there are 3 quarter beats per bar, and 4/4 means four quarter beats per bar.

If you’re looking for more information on those time signatures, check out the video: Introduction to Rhythm.

Simple 4/4 Rhythm

So when I’m counting out this simple rhythm here, the quarter note is our unit. Each number represents 1 quarter beat. When we say this half note gets two counts, we’re basically saying it gets two quarter beats.

6/8 time signature

But when you’ve got a 6/8 time signature, that all changes! The number on the bottom is an 8 – it’s representing an eighth beat. And the 6 on top is still telling us the same information – that there are 6 8th beats in each bar.

Simple rhythm in 6/8 time signature

So here we have a simple rhythm in our new time signature of 6/8. Remember, these numbers are code for six eighth beats in each measure. So each 8th note gets one beat, each quarter note gets two beats, and so forth.

6/8 time signature vs. 3/4

Some of you mathier people might be thinking to yourself, ‘but six eighth beats is the exact same thing as three quarter beats, right?’ well technically, yes. But in music, it’s an important distinction.

Let’s talk about ¾ first, three quarter beats in a measure. A common example of this time signature is the waltz, which is counted in threes (mmm – BAP – BAP). So each beat is felt, with an extra emphasis on the 1st beat of each measure.

So now 6/8, with 6 8th notes in a measure. This is counted a little differently. This is a time signature common to lullabies. When we play in 6/8, it’s divided in groups of two. 1 – – 2 – – 1 – – 2 – -. Or, like this:

(1) – 2 – 3 – (4) – 5 – 6

For a verbal example, we’ll use the word “blueberry” to demonstrate 6/8 time signature.

“Blueberry” has three syllables, and when you say it out loud on repeat, it’s something like “BLUE-ber-ry BLUE-ber-ry..”, just like counting (1) – 2 – 3 – (4) – 5 – 6.

Our verbal example for counting in 3/4 is “coffee”.

When you say “coffee” out loud, it’s got two syllables, so might sound like, “COF-fee, COF-fee, COF-fee…”, just like counting (1) – and – (2) – and (3) – and…

Blueberry sounds like it’s in groups of twos (you say it twice to fit a 6/8 rhythm), and coffee is grouped in threes (you say it three times to fit a 3/4 rhythm).

Another way to put this is that ¾ is a triple meter, meaning it has three main beats, and 6/8 is a duple meter, meaning it has 2 main beats.

If this is feeling like a little much for you right now, don’t freak out! The least you need to know is how to count in 6/8, and how counting in 6/8 differs from counting in 3/4 or 4/4.


Thanks for hanging out for this chat on the 6/8 time signature! Hopefully you now feel equipped to tackle them when they come up in your music.



Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.

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