How to Read Music – Lesson 16 – Compound Meter

Compound meters are meters in which the beat is divisible by 3.

You can easily tell if a meter is a compound meter by the top number of the time signature. The top number can be any number divisible by 3 that is greater than 3. If the top number is 6, 9 or 12 then the meter is a compound meter.

The beat in a compound meter will divide in to 3 equal parts. Since the beat divides in to 3 equal parts, the beat in any compound meter will always be some type of dotted note.

Lets take a look at an example in 6/8 to demonstrate this.

In a measure of 6/8 it is true that 6 1/8 notes will fill up a measure. But this does not mean that there are 6 beats in 6/8.

To determine the number of beats in any compound meter begin by looking at the top number.

Since the top number is 6, we know it is a compound meter. To find the number of beats divide the top number by 3. This will show us that in 6/8 there are 2 beats.

To find the length of a beat multiply the note value represented by the bottom number by 3. To find this imagine the bottom number as a fraction under the number 1. In this case 1/8 equals an eighth note.

Now multiply an eighth note by 3, which will equal 1 1/2 beats, or a dotted quarter note.

So the beat in 6/8 is the dotted quarter note, and since there are 2 beats in 6/8 two dotted quarter notes will fill up a measure of 6/8.

To help you remember and more easily see this this information visually, you can download the free Compound Meter poster.

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  • Eddie

    lessons 15 and 16 are not downloading the free poster, plus a physical example of what you are explaining can be Vary helpful, when ir comes to beats, you should go one and two and……….

  • leonharrell

    Hi Eddie,

    Thanks for letting me know about the download link problem. I have fixed them both.

    Next week I will begin the Eastman Counting System which will walk through how to count simple and compound meters.

  • Garrett McPherson

    Really good video, one recommendation is that you play a drum beat with an accent on the strong beats to so the viewers can understand how the meter sounds. Ta da da Ta da da Ta da da Ta da da. In my experience playing band music I have also seen this meter used in strait 6 conducted in 6 (ta ta ta ta ta ta) and in 3 (ta da ta da ta da) though that one is used more to transition to 3/4.

    • leonharrell

      Hi Garrett,

      Thanks for your comment. I think having a drum beat in future meter videos is an excellent idea. Let me know if you have more suggestions or have any questions.

      Thanks again,

      Leon Harrell