7.Re-designating the Unit

3/8 and 6/8 Meter  

We know from chapter 2 that any note can be designated as the unit of measurement if we assign to it a value of “1”. So far, we have only studied meters in which the quarter note was designated as the unit of measurement. In this chapter, we are going to look at meters in which the eighth note is designated as the unit of measurement. Let’s start with 3/8 meter.

Beat per measure

Note designated as the unit

As we have previously learned, the top number of a time signature always indicate how many beats there are in each measure. In 3/8 meter there are 3 beats per measure. The bottom number in a time signature always indicates which note has been designated as the unit of measurement. In this case, the number 8 represents the eighth note. (Just as the number 4 in ¾ represented the quarter note.) 

This means that the eighth note has been designated as the unit of measurement (i.e., the eighth note has been assigned a value of 1). 

Let’s also take a look at 6/8 meter.  

Beat per measure

Note designated as the unit

Once again, the top number indicates how many beats there are in each measure. In this case of 6/8 meter, there are 6 beats in each measure. The bottom number indicates that the eighth note has been designated as the unit of measurement and assigned a value of 1.  

Quarter Note as Unit Eighth Note as Unit

= 1/4 = 1/2

= 1/2 = 1

= 1 = 2

= 1&1/2 = 3

= 2 = 4

= 3 = 6

= 4 = 8

If you study the chart above, you will find that the value on the right side are double those on the left. When we made the eighth note equal to 1 beat, we doubled its duration (from ½ to 1). We must therefore double all the other notes so that their durations relative to one another remain the same.  

Strongest Pulses 

When we studied 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4 meter, we learned where the strong pluses occurred. In 3/8 meter the pulses strength of the beats is “strong – weak – weak”.

(Chapter 7 – Audio Sample 1)

In 6/8 meter the pulse strength of the beats is “very strong – weak – weak – less strong – weak – weak”.

(Chapter 7 – Audio Sample 2)

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