Musical Composition, Theory and Songwriting/Differences between 6/8 and 12/8 time?



I'm trying to write a ballad in the 6/8 time. But I am confused about this point. In some music sheets that I saw, they are also written in the 12/8. These two sounds very similar to me.

Could you pls explain?

Thank you.

ANSWER: Hi Kevin :

6/8 and 12/8 time are similar in that the basic pulse is divided into 3 parts ( as opposed to 2 parts or 4 parts as in 4/4  time ). This also applies to 9/8 time as well. The basic difference between the 6 and 12 are the number of basic  beats per bar ( 2 in 6/8, 4 in 12/8 and 3
in 9/8 ). The choice of which one to use is usually influenced by the  harmonic rhythm ( RATE of chord change) In practice, both 6 and 12 are used somewhat interchangeably by  composers. That being said, I'd probably write a ballad in 12/8.

Not to cause confusion, but you should also be aware that in some music , the basic pulse also subdivided by two as well  -this is common in some latin  music:

I want to LIVE in a- MER - I- CA.  3-3-2-2-2    ( one bar of 12, two bars of 6 )

Brubecks "Blue Rondo ala Turk " is written in 9/8 but subdivided into 2-2- 2-3 .

Hope this helps !  :)

Phil Kelly

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Wonderful reply. May I ask this related question?

I have a Tyros 2, which is fairly expensive. But apparently the styles for this keyboard only has 6/8. I have not yet found the 12/8 styles.

Is this common for other keyboards as well? Have you seen the 12/8 styles in other keyboards?

Thank you.

Hi Kevin:

I don't know much about the prre-programmed drum grooves on any keyboards beacuase I don't use them ( I usually program my own drumm grooves ) However, in my Finale notation program drum groove app, there is a selection called "12/8 ballad", so I'd assume  something similar should be easy to find.

Otherwise, you could program your own -set up a 12/8 sig and quantize to triplets:

closed hi hat on all 12 beats

cross stick on  on 4 and 10

bass drum  on 1   6 7      12

this will give you one bar of 12/8 -repeat as needed and add fills ??

Since I don't know what your song needs, if the 6/8/ pattern works for you, there's no reason not to use it.

Good Luck !


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Phil Kelly


I`m a semi-retired professional music arranger with over thirty five years in all phases of the commercial music production business. I can try to answer questions regarding music arranging, theory, orchestration , and/or composition for most acoustic ensembles .( jazz band or orchestral ) I can try to offer suggestions about studio music recording procedures and some basic MIDI applications , too. In the course of my career I`ve worked with such artists as Doc Severinsen and the old Tonight Show Band, Bill Watrous, Buddy Greco, John Gary, Mel Torme, Julius LaRosa, as well as the Pop programs of the Fort Worth, Dallas, North Carolina, and Houston Symphonies, as well as library music material for ABC, ESPN, and NFL Films.

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