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  #1  
Old 01-09-2005, 11:14 PM
DaddyTimesTwo DaddyTimesTwo is offline
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6/8 Time signature vs 4/4 w/ triplets

As a young teen ager (20+ years ago) I took drum lessons. At one point I was pretty good, although I never played in a band beyond percusion ensemble groups, and I could read music pretty well. And, as a drummer with no theory training, I know nothing of chords or keys. Or notes, really. I could count out measures and I had a pretty good feel for rhythm.

So, while listening to the end of a ZZ Top song on the radio ("Tush"?), I was once again pondering how similar (to me at least) a 6/8 time signature sounds like a 4/4 with triplets. In that ZZ Top song, FRank Beard (the drummer and the one without a beard) is playing a standard blues shuffle that could be a 6/8 with rests on 2 and 5, or 4/4 and triplets with rests on the, um, middle one there (can you tell I'm a wee bit rusty?). Is there a way to tell?

Is my ear that bad? Or am I, like, totally on to something here?
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  #2  
Old 01-09-2005, 11:17 PM
Othersider Othersider is offline
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You might be on to something. I'm not sure, because I've never gotten a formal education on timing...but you might be.

I'm going to go take a crash course in music timing and be back to answer in a few minutes.
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  #3  
Old 01-09-2005, 11:29 PM
Othersider Othersider is offline
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I was just reading that 12/8 is a fairly common blues time signature, and that some pieces can sound like they're in half or double the time they actually are depending on the tempo. Like, one could mistake a 2/4 and 4/4 for each other, so maybe one might think a 6/8 is a 12/8, or vice versa.

Then again, I'm not a drummer, I'm more of a guitarist, so timing has never been really the focus of my studies.
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  #4  
Old 01-09-2005, 11:46 PM
picker picker is offline
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Othersider's pretty close here....

triplets in 4/4 is actually very close to 12/8. 6/8 would be more akin to triplets in 2/4, which would have a different feel.

I would count 4/4 triplets a little looser in the triplet (kind of more of a shuffle) and with stricter accent on the main beat (specifically the 2 and 4 in a rock/jazz/blues context, and 1 & 3 elsewhere) whereas in 12/8 I would tend to count it a little more straight the whole way through, with the accent equal on all four beats (well, maybe just a little more on the 1 than anywhere else.)

Holy run-on sentence! If more clarification is needed, I'll post tomorrow...I'm a little too tired to think clearly at this point.
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  #5  
Old 01-10-2005, 12:39 AM
Othersider Othersider is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by picker
Othersider's pretty close here....
Yay! I almost got something right, when I'm pretty much uneducated in that area. Go me!
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  #6  
Old 01-10-2005, 05:16 AM
Liberal Liberal is offline
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In my opinion, triplets in 4/4 does not sound like 12/8 if they're played right. Triplets are played in a single beat, but 12/8 might have emphasis on the 4th and 9th notes. I think that writing out a 12/8 piece using triplets in 4/4 with special notation for emphasis of the beat is like writing out something you want to play in A but using a C# key signature and adding flats and naturals.
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  #7  
Old 01-10-2005, 05:28 AM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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In a lot of classical/romantic music, triplets in x/4 are often used without being explicitly indicated as such (this is particularly true in piano music). As in Beethoven's Moon light Sonata (PDF), where bar 5 onwards has the juxtaposition of triplets and dotted rhythms. This fluidity of alteration between groupings of twos and threes is something that goes back to some of the earliest rhythmic music notation (but we won't go there now )

But yes, as others have said, the situation in the OP is a swung-4/4 rhythm, rather than a strict compound one.
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  #8  
Old 01-10-2005, 06:54 AM
DaddyTimesTwo DaddyTimesTwo is offline
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6/8, 12/8 whatever. Ahem. I might have caught the 6/8 ==> 2/4 12/8 ==> 4/4 in the past and I can see the difference now, but anyway... Thanks for the input. I'm hearing your answers as "It might sound the same to a tin-eared clod, but it's a different style altogether." Does that mean that most rock-blues that would sound in this vein would be more typically a triplet-based 4/4 style? And the differences would be the accented beat and a "looser" feel?
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  #9  
Old 01-10-2005, 07:20 AM
Jonathan Chance Jonathan Chance is offline
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I think where we're falling off here is the location of triplets. Triplets give their heightened feel when they're juxtaposed to the standard 4/4 frame that the rest of the song is in. If the entire song was in 6/8 or 12/8 then there'd be no point.

But have something in common time and suddenly have something with a different beat pattern places emphasis on it where the composer wishes it to be. It's the change that brings the effect...not just the timing.
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  #10  
Old 01-10-2005, 08:56 AM
cornflakes cornflakes is offline
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"Tush" is a shuffle. IMHO, it's in 4/4, with a definite downbeat and upbeat, but the upbeat is relaxed until it's basically on the third beat of a triplet. The second note of the upbeat still feels like it is "between the notes."

6/8 would sound like a waltz, where the... er, triplet-ness? is more emphasized. For a pop example of a 6/8 or 12/8 beat, Blondie's "Call Me" (gah!) is in 12/8; every beat has equal emphasis.
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  #11  
Old 01-10-2005, 04:52 PM
Spectre of Pithecanthropus Spectre of Pithecanthropus is offline
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As a qualitative matter, don't triplets over 4/4 have a more "even" feel than 6/8?

Whereas 6/8 has a very "bouncy" feel and is often used in fast marches. I can't describe it very well, but here's a link to a Scott Joplin tune I used to be able to rattle off in my piano playing days:

The Rose Bud March

And another:

Antionette March

And now...?

I can barely play a note of piano, and hate myself for letting it go. But at least I do play guitar.
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  #12  
Old 01-10-2005, 04:59 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spectre of Pithecanthropus
As a qualitative matter, don't triplets over 4/4 have a more "even" feel than 6/8?
It all depends on how they're played. Marches in particular have very obvious rhythmic requirements which are quite separate from the music itself.
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  #13  
Old 01-11-2005, 03:56 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Liberal
In my opinion, triplets in 4/4 does not sound like 12/8 if they're played right. Triplets are played in a single beat, but 12/8 might have emphasis on the 4th and 9th notes. I think that writing out a 12/8 piece using triplets in 4/4 with special notation for emphasis of the beat is like writing out something you want to play in A but using a C# key signature and adding flats and naturals.
Blues and swing are almost always closer in feel to 12/8, yet they are usually written out in 4/4 for matters of convention.

A bar of 12/8 is normally subdivided into 4 main beats, with three subdivisions. This is the same as 4/4. The difference between writing out a piece in 12/8 or 4/4 triplets is a matter of convention. There really isn't any difference except what the musician expects. If I see 4/4, I expect an eighth note subdivision of the beat, not triplets. With 12/8, I expect to see a triplet pulse. The reason much of jazz and swing is written in 4/4 is because you have a lot of quarter note-eighth note triplets (which make up the swing feel) and reading lines and lines of swing gets a little tiresome. That and the level of swing varies from performer to performer.

Now, 6/8 does not feel like standard 4/4 at all. Sure, you could write a 6/8 piece in 4/4, but it doesn't communicate to the musician as accurately the feel of the song as the correct time signature.

That ZZ Top you heard would most likely be 12/8 or 4/4. I'm almost certain that it would be written out as 4/4, but you could say it's closer in feel to 12/8. So, no, your ear is not bad.
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  #14  
Old 01-11-2005, 04:01 AM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell
A bar of 12/8 is normally subdivided into 4 main beats, with three subdivisions. This is the same as 4/4.
Crap. Misspoke. It's the same in the sense that you have 4 main beats, however the difference is (as I mention later) that in 12/8 you have triplet subdivision and in 4/4 you have eighth note subdivisions as your main pulse.
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  #15  
Old 01-11-2005, 05:22 AM
Liberal Liberal is offline
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I think Jonathan Chance got it right. The overall context of the song determines a lot. Like I said, there's no point in writing a song in D with naturals all over the sheet, when you intend to sing it in C. But a D chord as a secondary dominant is noticeable but not necessarily out of place.
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  #16  
Old 01-11-2005, 12:40 PM
Zebra Zebra is offline
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It all depends on how it is written.


Most people's expierence with 6/8 is something along the lines of a Sousa march.

But not everything written in 6/8 has to sound like Sousa.

Something can be written in 12/8 or 4/4 and depending on how it is written, (where the accents are, what instruments are used etc.) can sound the same or completly different.

Basically if I were a composer and I was writing something I may want to think about how many times I wanted to write the number "3" over the group of eight notes to say they are triplets vs just writing the damn thing in 12/8.

Just listening to something it is IMPOSSIBLE to tell WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY what the time signature is for that peice. MAYBE it is in 4/4 or MAYBE not. Without looking at the sheet music, (and one by the actual composer and not written down by someone else after the fact) you won't know.

You could write a Sousa march in 2/4 and make it sound like 6/8. It would just be harder on the person writing the music out and slightly less harder on the musicians playing it.

It should not make any difference to the listener what the time sig is to a peice and unless you can hear the musicians counting out the beats or you see the sheet music, you won't know.
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  #17  
Old 01-11-2005, 04:24 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zebra
Just listening to something it is IMPOSSIBLE to tell WITH ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY what the time signature is for that peice. MAYBE it is in 4/4 or MAYBE not. Without looking at the sheet music, (and one by the actual composer and not written down by someone else after the fact) you won't know.

You could write a Sousa march in 2/4 and make it sound like 6/8. It would just be harder on the person writing the music out and slightly less harder on the musicians playing it.

It should not make any difference to the listener what the time sig is to a peice and unless you can hear the musicians counting out the beats or you see the sheet music, you won't know.
True, but as I said there's historical conventions which govern how time signatures are written. I would say it's more accurate or meaningful to write something with a triple pulse as "6/8" rather than "2/4". Certain time signatures bring with them certain expectations. Look at "America" from West Side Story. Conjure up the rhythm: "BUM-ba-baBUM-ba-baBUM BUM BUM" You could write this out as 6/8 or 12/8, but the feel really is alternating bars of 6/8 and 3/4 (which is exactly how it's written in the original score.) All time signatures are acceptable, but I find the 6/8 4/4 one the most informative as a musician.
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  #18  
Old 01-11-2005, 05:25 PM
DaddyTimesTwo DaddyTimesTwo is offline
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Since []b]pulykamell[/b] seems to think I'm not full of it, I'm going to ignore everyone else's post and just say what a smart and attractive person I feel pulykamell to be.
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  #19  
Old 01-11-2005, 06:49 PM
Zebra Zebra is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by pulykamell
True, but as I said there's historical conventions which govern how time signatures are written. I would say it's more accurate or meaningful to write something with a triple pulse as "6/8" rather than "2/4". Certain time signatures bring with them certain expectations. Look at "America" from West Side Story. Conjure up the rhythm: "BUM-ba-baBUM-ba-baBUM BUM BUM" You could write this out as 6/8 or 12/8, but the feel really is alternating bars of 6/8 and 3/4 (which is exactly how it's written in the original score.) All time signatures are acceptable, but I find the 6/8 4/4 one the most informative as a musician.

Right, but as a listener?


The OP was asking if 3/3 = 1 or really if 12/3 = 4. Of course they do.



The reason for time signatures is to make life easier for the musician and the composer. It's probably pretty much the last thing the listener needs to worry about. Even if you are dancing to the music, a professional dancer ususally does things in groups of 8, no matter what the music is and just plain folk just need to hear the rhythm.
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  #20  
Old 01-11-2005, 07:37 PM
GorillaMan GorillaMan is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zebra
The reason for time signatures is to make life easier for the musician and the composer. It's probably pretty much the last thing the listener needs to worry about. Even if you are dancing to the music, a professional dancer ususally does things in groups of 8, no matter what the music is and just plain folk just need to hear the rhythm.
Spot on. The basics of rhythmic structures and notations as we know them predate modern time signatures. And even the predecesors of time signatures, mensurations, began as a way of explaining what was happening in the music, not the other way around.
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  #21  
Old 01-11-2005, 11:35 PM
pulykamell pulykamell is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zebra
Right, but as a listener?


The OP was asking if 3/3 = 1 or really if 12/3 = 4. Of course they do.



The reason for time signatures is to make life easier for the musician and the composer. It's probably pretty much the last thing the listener needs to worry about. Even if you are dancing to the music, a professional dancer ususally does things in groups of 8, no matter what the music is and just plain folk just need to hear the rhythm.
Sure. I don't think we have a disagreement here. Although the average listener may need to think a little about time signature when confronted with Hungarian or Balkan folk music, which often strays into 7/8, 11/8, and 5/8 territory.
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