6/8 is a popular time signature in music. It seems simple enough: six eighth-note beats per bar. However, musicians often struggle to recognise or play 6/8.

There are six common mistakes musicians make with 6/8. Learn about them and you’ll be able to avoid them yourself.

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Mistake 1: Ignoring it.

6/8 is actually one of the most common time signatures in popular music. We tend to assume pop and rock is in 4/4, but 6/8 is used surprisingly often too.

Many musicians struggle to count or play the 6/8 time signature. The theory can also be confusing, especially comparing with 3/4 or 2/4. As a result they avoid or ignore 6/8. Don’t let that happen to you!

Mistake 2: Not knowing how to count it.

There are two different ways you can count a 6/8 time signature:

  1. Count it as 6 eighth note beats.
  2. Count as 2 dotted-quarter note beats.

Practice counting bars in both of these ways before you try applying your 6/8 skills to real music.

Mistake 3: Confusing 6/8 with 2/4

You can count 2/4 as two beats per bar, just like 6/8. This causes some people to mix them up. Here’s the difference:

  • In 2/4 you subdivide each beat into two parts (“1 and, 2 and”)
  • In 6/8 you subdivide each beat into three parts (“1 and ah, 2 and ah”)

Mistake 4: Confusing 6/8 with 3/4

Similarly, you can count 3/4 as six eighth notes, just like 6/8. Some people mix up 3/4 and 6/8 as a result. There’s a difference though:

  • In 3/4 you subdivide each of three beats into two eighth notes (“1 and, 2 and, 3 and”)
  • In 6/8 you subdivide each of two beats into three eighth notes (“1 and ah, 2 and ah”)

Mistake 5: Not spotting 6/8

Can you spot a song in 6/8 when you hear it? There are a few things you can listen for.

Songs with a 6/8 beat have a lilting waltz feel, a bit like 3/4. Ask yourself if it sounds like a waltz where all the bars are in pairs. Or does it sound like 6 beats to a bar where the first and fourth are emphasised? It could also sound like 2 beats to a bar – but each beat sounds a bit like a triplet. These are all clues that it’s in 6/8.

Don’t make these 6/8 mistakes!

As a musician you must be familiar with 6/8 time and by avoiding the mistakes above you’ll be well equipped to handle it when you encounter it.

Listen to 6/8 song examples (there are lots here) and practice playing music that’s in 6/8. If you like writing music, try creating something in 6/8 yourself. Soon you will have internalised the feel of 6/8 and it will be easy to recognise by ear in future.