6/8 and literacy

68timeThe more musically literate a person is, the more likely he is to understand the nature of most 6/8 church music –that it is customarily conceived with two beats per measure, not six.  There are two groups of three eighth notes per measure.

Below are some examples.  Comparatively speaking, only a few popular modern songs are written in 6/8; most of these songs are older, “hymnal” types:

  • Anywhere with Jesus
  • Encamped Along the Hills of Light (Faith Is the Victory)
  • Great Is the Lord
  • I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
  • It Came upon a Midnight Clear
  • Master, the Tempest Is Raging
  • Prince of Peace, Control My Will (actually in 3/8, but the principle is the same)
  • Sweet Hour of Prayer
  • The Gospel Is for All
  • The Old Rugged Cross (possibly an exception — this can be led with flowing, 8th-note pulses, although a strong case can be made that it, too, is better led at approximately dotted quarter = 52; either way, this song requires attention to motion in the tempo)
  • There’s a Stirring
  • Into the Heart of Jesus (notated in 6/4, not 6/8 — but the principle is the same — it is better led in two groups of three quarter notes per measure, not pulsing on each of six quarter notes)
  • Wonderful, Merciful Savior (ditto)

The rule of thumb is this:  songs written in 6/8 meter should generally be led with two beats per measure.  This execution leads to more appropriate tempos — tempos that don’t drag.  The sonic, affective result of leading such songs as though they have six pulses in a measure is like a barbiturate administered to a church assembly.  (I suppose I could have equally aptly spoken of drug-induced lethargy in individuals here, but I wanted to speak more pointedly to the resulting, sluggish affect of the assembly event.)

Leaders should be educated — made aware of this musical reality — and should direct accordingly, for the betterment of church assemblies.

Note: this post was not written in response to anything that occurred today. It was written a few weeks ago and has much broader application.

For more on tempo in church music:




https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/mwm-adolphes-discovery/ (Matt Redman, a cappella church singing, and tempo)


2 thoughts on “6/8 and literacy

  1. Matt 01/20/2014 / 11:36 am

    I learned this after a while of leading and have pointed it out to the young people that I occasionally train (mostly for LTC). The times when I actually tried to beat out 6 different hand movements are comical looking back.


    • Brian Casey 01/20/2014 / 5:10 pm

      How refreshing! Not that you seem to be in agreement with me, but that you actually learned something like this by doing and evaluating yourself critically over time! That strikes me as pretty unique. So few people even think about things like this. 🙂


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