Tips & Tricks of the Trade // Music Fundamentals - Time Signatures - Compound



Time Signatures - Compound
- 1 September 2016

Compound Time Signatures

8 over 8 time signature

Take the 4/4 time signature and double it! Yupp!! You get 8/8!
As you would have worked it out already, this time signature means that we now have 8 measures in a Bar and we use Quavers (Eighth Notes) to count them. Quite easy when you get the hang of it right? Clap to this pattern below while singing ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’ [he he]:

Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8)

and so on...

6 over 8 time interval

How about the 6/8?
You guessed it! It’s indeed the compound for the 3/4 time signature. Each Bar has 6 beats measured in Quavers (1/8 Notes).
For an example, clap to this pattern below:

Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6)

and so forth..

9 over 8 time interval

The 9/8 follows the same idea. It’s also a compound for the 3/4 time signature where each Bar has 9 beats at Quaver measures.
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8) Clap(9)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8) Clap(9)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8) Clap(9)


12 over 8 time interval

The 12/8 is the compound of the Common Time. So each Bar has 12 measures and each is counted in Quavers. This particular time signature has been extensively used in slower jazz pieces. To demonstrate this time signature, clap to the pattern below.

Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8) Clap(9) Clap(10) Clap(11) Clap(12)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8) Clap(9) Clap(10) Clap(11) Clap(12)
Clap(1) Clap(2) Clap(3) Clap(4) Clap(5) Clap(6) Clap(7) Clap(8) Clap(9) Clap(10) Clap(11) Clap(12)


So long as a given time signature is divisible one of the primary time signatures (4/4 or 3/4) then it is regarded as Compound Time signature. Another way of saying it is that you can group the notes within a bar in equal primary measures. 3s or 4s etc.

Note: You would have observed thus far (and probably figured it out already) that as far as Time Signature markings are concerned, the top number (numerator) can essentially be any number of the composer’s (or arranger’s) choosing. Odd or Even.
However, the denominator can only be even numbers as these indicate the Note Values as discussed in our previous lessons on Rhythm.


The next question is how do we then count time that is not so regular?

- written by MegaMidas
Musician at Africappella

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