Cut Time and 6/8

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    I teach 6-12 band in a very small district (I’m actually K-12 Music). My HS band students are at about an 8th grade music reading level.
    We have been working daily on reading 4/4 rhythms and my students have really had a lot of success. Recently I tried to introduce cut time (2/2) and I lost even my most advanced students. Any suggestions on how to approach this and 6/8?


    I’ve been doing the same thing this year. I’ve found Habits of Musicianship (free download at to be pretty helpful with my 6-8 band. It’s technically a beginning band method, but I’ve found it can challenge my experienced students as well. Unlike many rhythm studies books, these exercises are often melodic, which I find helpful in developing musicality along with rhythm. It jumps into 6/8 pretty quickly (although it doesn’t do cut time, at least not as far as we’ve made it so far). I do two exercises daily in class as part of our warm up- one that we had done the previous class period and one that is new. I find that since we don’t have to concentrate much on notes (since it is a beginning method, it dwells on the first three for a LONG time), we can concentrate on making music. My students are really improving on their 6/8, and I expect that when I introduce a piece of literature in 6/8, the transition will be much easier than it had been in the past.

    As far as cut time goes, I would be on the lookout for something similar or write something similar for yourself. OR, to be even more ambitious, have your kids do it! Give them parameters- a certain range of notes, certain number of measures, and let them write your cut-time exercises! In fact, I think that’s what I’m going to have my students do. Thanks for the inspiration.


    Thanks so much for this site it looks great.
    I appreciate your toughts also.


    You might want to try having students moving to feel the new meter. Students can sway side to side in their seats to the big beats in 6/8 time. You can also have them pat on their laps for 1 and 4 (big beats) and clap for beats 2,3, 5, and 6 (small beats). This creates a pat-clap-clap patchen that will enable the students to feel the big beats and the smaller beats in between. Have them sing (or chant) their parts while you play an accompaniment on piano. Sing for them while they patchen. Try introducing the compound meter in a way that is more focused on how the meter feels rather than a mathematical break down of how the meter looks on the page. You can have them take familiar tunes in duple meter and change them to compound meter easily by singing first with the patchen and then playing.

    I hope this helps. Good luck!


    I’ve explained it like this…

    “Cut Time is when we cut the conducting in half. If I were to conduct this piece at full tempo (then I try it at quarter note equals 200+), I can only conduct it so many bars and then I get slow and it doesn’t work – plus my shoulder would fall off. So, we cut that in half. (Here I would begin counting 1-2-3-4 and conducting 1—2—).”

    From here, we may examine a few measures, but that typically does the trick.


    Sometimes I don’t even explain it to them. I’ll start out conducting in 4/4 and then switch to cut time in the middle of the piece. They never get mixed up. Once I’ve done that a few times, I then ask if anyone noticed any differences. I then explain to them what happened.


    I agree with snedekerj. Its also a good way to see who is watching.

    Another idea to get them to feel the different meters is to pick songs they know and have them identify them as triple or duple meter.


    I think an easy way to teach 6/8 is to tell the kids to just ignore the dots. It’s always worked for me.


    Last year I had my 5th graders playing Cut Time with only slight difficulties by the end of the year.

    The secret is David Newell’s book “Teaching Rhythm: New Strategies and Techniques for Success.” The book is $29.99 and is one of the best investments I have ever made in my teaching. It also talks about how to present rhythms, cut time, 6/8… There is also a workbook that goes with it that is excellent. If I ever go back to teaching more than just 5th grade I will use it for it’s logical and practical approach to rhythm and associated time signatures.


    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.

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