Meter Usage in Music

Question by Guy Rochon
(St. Hubert, Quebec)

J. Lennon and Paul McCarthney wrote Baby’s in Black in 12/8 with a 6/8 turn around. Would the reason be based on the phrase length or is there a different reason. Would it make sense to write it as 3/8 or 6/8 meter for ease of reading and still feel the same rhythm ?

Monsieur Rochon,

To make a long story short: no.

The whole “idea” behind 12/8 is that it’s a ternary type of bar with 4 distinct beats. Each beat is divided into three parts.

The real downbeat happens on 1, a weak beat on 2, then another slightly-less-strong downbeat on 3 and then the final weak beat on 4.

This is NOT the case in 6/8!

6/8 is analogous to 2/2 if you wish. Strong, Weak. Strong, Weak. Strong, Weak, etc. with three subdivisions on each beat.

So by now you probably have figured out that 3/8 is analogous to … well … 1/1 with three subdivisions!!! It doesn’t really make sense. Imagine someone couting to a tune : “one, one, one, one, one, one, one, …”

I don’t know the song you’re talking about, but rest assured, it was well planned out. The “turnaround” is just a shorter bar to get back to the beginning. So, basically what I’m saying is that there’s a reason for all time signatures and subdivisions…

…or else, we could look at any piece of music and say “Ah, what the heck, let’s just write it in 1/1 for ease of reading.”


Catch my drift?

There’s not much of that kind of information on unfortunately, but I highly encourage you to consult other websites, book on basic harmony (such a sight-singing solfegio book for college / university courses) or more experienced musician.

It usually all make sense that 12/8 is a different beast than “3/8 four times” when you get the “feel” of it. It helps if you can get someone to play it or tap it for you.

I hope this helps. Please, let me know if you have any questions, and post them below as a comment.


Marc-Andre Seguin

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