Compound time

In compound time

  • The beat feels in multiples of 3.
  • The natural accent falls in multiples of 2 or 3.

Time Signature

In all frequently used compound time signatures the bottom number is 8. Three 8th notes (quavers) make a beat.

Divide the top number by 3 for the number of beats to the bar. In 6 - 8 time there are six eighth notes to the bar, two compound beats to the bar.


Three quavers make a dotted crotchet.

By putting a dot to the right of a note head you increase the note's time value by half. So a dotted crotchet has the time value of one and a half crotchets, 3 quavers, one beat of compound time.

Usually (but not always) the compound time beat is a dotted crotchet.


    melody rhythm
3 - 8 Compound time
1 dotted crotchet beat to the bar.
6 -8 Compound time
2 dotted crotchet beats to the bar.
9 - 8 Compound time
3 dotted crotchet beats to the bar.
12 - 8 Compound time
4 dotted crotchet beats to the bar.

Is 9 - 8 always compound time?


9 - 8 says 9 quavers to the bar. It does not say how the quavers are grouped. Three dotted crotchet beats make 9 - 8 compound time. Three crotchet beats and one dotted crotchet beat makes 9 - 8 uneven time.

The time signature alone is not enough to show the feel. We need beams. We need groupings. We need to see the beat.

Why notate 3 - 8 and 6 - 8 with beamed quavers and 9 - 8 and 12 - 8 with dotted crotchets?

Well, it has to do with the feel. The time signature alone is not enough to give you the feel. You need the beams too.

Music Theory

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