Here are some examples of counted passages, including the downbeats/upbeats and the numeric counting and syllables. As we progress, some guidelines will be pointed out to help you count rhythmic passages on your own.Work to understand the counting system by reading the notation, listening to the recording, and playing each example.
6/8 meter can be counted slowly, using the eighth note as the beat with 6 beats in each measure. When counted slowly, 6/8 is a simple meter because each beat (eighth note) is divided into 2 parts (sixteenth notes).
6/8 can also be played in a “fast” manner where the dotted quarter note receives one beat. When counted this way, 6/8 is a compound meter because the beat (dotted quarter) is divided into 3 parts (eighth notes).
Each example below is notated and counted in the slow and fast methods. The tempo differs between the slow and fast methods to illustrate why we switch to the fast method of counting.
Guideline: Count All Beats
Always know which beat in the measure you are on – always count the numbers (even if a new note does not start on the beat).
When 6/8 is played slowly, all notes in this passage are worth more than one beat. Notice that all 6 beats of the measure are counted, whether or not a new note begins on the given beat.
The passage below includes the dotted half note, which receives two beats when 6/8 is played fast. Notice that both beat numbers are notated, even though you only play a new note on the first beat of the dotted half note.
Guideline: Count Only to the Level Needed
6/8 Time – Slow
Notice that these examples include all downbeats when counted slowly.
6/8 Time – Fast
When counting at a fast tempo, the “la” and “li” syllables are only shown where the eighth notes occur. This is our next guideline of typical counting – only count to the level that is needed to understand the rhythm.