Reply To: Cut Time and 6/8

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I think we all tend to make this a lot harder than it needs to be.
The problem comes in when we try to compare/connect it to 4/4 3/4 2/4 meter and do “conversions”.

Here’s how I explain it to my students:

Look at the time signature. What does it say.
Yes. 6/8.
So far, we’ve always had a 4 on the bottom.
4 quarter notes fit in a measure, 3 quarter notes fit in a measure, 2 quarter notes fit in a measure.

So, now we have 6…pause…
They almost always chime in EIGHTH NOTES….
In a measure.

In other words, we are changing the unit of measure.
It’s like before we were measuring everything in relations to how they compare to a quarter note.
Now, we are measuring everything in relation to how it compares to an eighth note.

Show 6 eighth note.
So….here we have 6 eighth notes and each of them gets one of the six eighth note pulses.
Play it.

Show two dotted quarters.
So…how many 8th notes fit in a dotted quarter?
3…so this will get three of the eighth note pulses.

Do same process with dotted half.
Do same process with quarter eighth quarter eighth.

This is all of the rhythms that I deal with when first introducing 6/8; but 16th note patterns could be explained similarly.

Then….we deal with “fast 6/8” the next week.
I tell them to imagine they are at a concert and all get so inspired by my playing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow”
(we all do get a bit of a laugh out of that one! ;)….)
that the whole audience starts to clap along to the beat.
Do that. I am going to play. As soon as you know where the audience is going to be clapping, start clapping.
Start to play and set a good fast tempo. They will clap on 1 and 4, of course.

Ask them, did you clap on all 6 beats?
No? Where DID you clap?

Talk about how when the beat gets going too fast, you don’t really feel all 6 of them.
Your brain could still think all 6. But we can’t clap, conduct or tap our foot that fast.
Try it and prove the point.
When that happens, we just tap, count, conduct, feel the two big beats.

I’ve never had any problems with kids not understanding 6/8 with this process.
The only kids who ever have trouble are the ones who already learned it with some piano teacher who made it sound like this hard thing, which it is not.

When you get to cut time, use that fast 6/8 explanation.
When 4/4 gets too fast to be able to realistically clap/count/tap/conduct all four beats – – we change the unit of measure.
2/2 means two HALF NOTES can fit in each measure.