Need Help Understanding 12/8 Time

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by CrazyFingers, Feb 12, 2008.

  1. CrazyFingers

    CrazyFingers Member

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    I'm a complete idiot when it comes to anything other than 4/4. I don't obsess over this type of thing--preferring to just play--but the engineer in me wants to understand!

    I feel I need just one "aha moment" to breakthrough and understand this stuff. I have no formal music background and do not read music.

    The other day I came across a song in 12/8 time. Can somebody offer a simple explanation of how this works so I can "listen" for it the next time I hear the song.

    Then, maybe songs in not in common time (e.g. Footprints, So What) will make more sense to me.

    Thanks.
     
  2. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    12/8 is typically 4/4 with a triplet feel. I would count it as 1-2-3-2-2-3-3-2-3-4-2-3. Each beat is a group of three.

    Hope that helps,
    Bryan
     
  3. CrazyFingers

    CrazyFingers Member

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    Thanks.
    I'm not jivin' with the "8" in "12/8". IOW: Why wouldn't this be referred to as "12/4"?
     
  4. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    Because you are counting eighth notes.

    Incidentally, you could write the same part two ways: in 4/4 time using eighth note triplets or in 12/8 using eighth notes.

    Bryan
     
  5. monstermike

    monstermike Member

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    Because there are twelve eighth notes to the bar. Think of it as if 4/4 were 8/8.
     
  6. mc5nrg

    mc5nrg Supporting Member

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    Listen to Maggot Brain...Funkadelic classic tune. Actually maybe that's 6/8 depending on where you draw the bar line but similar feel.
     
  7. kimock

    kimock Member

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  8. guitarguy3612

    guitarguy3612 Senior Member

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    Like one person already mentioned it's 4/4 but with a triplet (dotted) feel. I say dotted because you can also view it as 4 dotted quarter notes...then those are subdivided into sets of 3 eighth notes each giving you the triplet feel.
     
  9. gennation

    gennation Member

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    For some reason I find it easier to read in /8 because the duration of quarter notes and eighth notes are easier to visualize , instead of thinking "ands" it's all on the beat. Kind of hard to explain in text for me. But the divisions are not divisions of the beat, they are the beat...at least until you get to 16th notes, then you have to subdivide the beats. Dotted quarter notes seem way easier in /8 also because one equals 3 beats, instead of one and a half.
     
  10. Tonefish

    Tonefish Member

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    4 groups per measure of 3 beats in each group, as above.

    It may help to use a metronome and adjust it for triplet beats as per BryanTs: 1-2-3-2-2-3-3-2-3-4-2-3.
     
  11. GtrWiz

    GtrWiz Member

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    this should have been the end of the thread, everything past this post will probably confuse you, and possibly send you in the wrong direction.
     
  12. heretic

    heretic Member

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    Just to confuse you even more <chuckle>, here's an alternate way of counting 12/8 (not that there's anything wrong with Bryan's, but drummers seem to use the verbiage below)

    in 4/4, you count the 8th-notes like this: 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and
    in 12/8 : 1-and-a-2-and-a-3-and-a-4-and-a

    Dontcha just love peripheral trivia...
     
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  13. Jeff Michael

    Jeff Michael Member

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    Just had this very chat with some of my fellow teachers tonight. Stupidly enough, there is no good answer--might as well call it 12/2 and use 12 half notes, or even 12/1 and use 12 whole notes.

    You want my opinion? They default to 12/8 because eighth notes are the largest subdivision having flags, and with there being flags you can beam them into groups to keep the "four sets of three" clear. But that's strict conjecture on my part.

    JAM

    p.s. Best way to hear 12/8 is a swinging four feel, a la Red House or Roadhouse Blues.
     
  14. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Just to echo what most have said, but maybe in another way...
    It's simply 4 beats per bar, but each beat divides into 3 instead of 2.

    In 4/4, every beat divides in 2 (8ths) then 4 (16ths) etc.
    Our notation system has no symbol for a 1/3 note, so we use 8ths instead, and put 3 of those in each beat.

    We could write the same feel as 4/4, but put 8th-note triplets in every beat marked with a "3". But that's too busy.

    A good examplle of 12/8 feel is REM's "Everybody Hurts". Or, for our older readers ;) , Irma Thomas/Fleetwood Mac's "Need Your Love So Bad".

    You could count each bar of these as 4 bars of 3/4, but that would give the wrong impression of the feel and tempo. 3/4 is waltz time, and those tunes aren't waltzes. In Everybody Hurts, you can clearly hear 4 slow beats, with most chord changes following the same pattern. But each beat is clearly triple. One arpeggio takes 2 beats, 3 8ths up and 3 8ths down.
    This could be written as 6/8 (2 beats per bar), but I prefer to think of it as 12/8 because the chord changes (harmonic rhythm) are every 4 beats, mostly.

    Slow blues is often, essentially, in a 12/8 feel, even if it's not marked as such. (Usually it's marked as 4/4, with a "shuffle", "swing quaver" or "triplet feel" sign.)
    In jazz 12/8 usually indicates something more Afro-Cuban in feel, where you might get cross rhythms in different patterns of 8th notes.
     
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  15. johngti

    johngti Member

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    And I'll throw Merry Xmas (war is over) by John Lennon into the mix. Couldn't be any clearererer!
     
  16. vhollund

    vhollund Member

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    When you have the feel:
    123 223 323 423
    ...well in your feet and singing the eigthnotes then try to clap the 6/8 clave:
    123 223 323 423 etc.
    or witten in binary
    :/101 011 010 101/:

    When you have 4 /4 in your feet, the triols from your mouth , and the 6/8 clave in your hands then you will understand everything (amen hehe)

    If you find it too easy then try 4/4 from your mouth, clave in feet, and triols in hands

    (Too bad theres not a note editor in this forum)
     
  17. hacker

    hacker Member

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    Basic Music Theory 101: 12/8 time means that there are 12 beats per measure, and the eighth note gets one beat. Just like 3/4 time would mean 3 beats to the measure, with the 1/4 note getting one beat.

    You cannot look at a piece of music written in 12/8 time as any other key signature, like 4/4 with a triplet feel (which would be a basic shuffle feel) 6/8 or whatever, because that would change the entire feel of the song. While it may not matter much for a lead guitarist, it is the most important thing for the rhythm section.

    As mentioned above, 12/8 is common in slow blues tunes. Listen for the ride cymbal, which will often play each eighth note.
     
  18. hacker

    hacker Member

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    Actually, this is 3/4 time-listen to the background-it's a classic waltz. In fact, I'm sure its lifted from Mozart or Beetoven.
     
  19. chopsley

    chopsley Silver Supporting Member

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    Cool website. If you really want to get inside 12/8, learn to play traditional African music. When I was in music school, I played in a traditional West African drumming ensemble, and it did amazing things for my groove (in fact, I could really use a tune-up...).
     
  20. Bryan T

    Bryan T Guitar Owner Silver Supporting Member

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    In practice, 12/8 and 4/4 with a triplet feel often are used interchangeably. What makes you say that they can't be looked at in the same way? I'm not suggesting that all pieces in 12/8 have that type of feel, but a lot of them do.

    Bryan
     

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