Compound meter (music)

Compound meter (music)

In music, compound meter, compound metre, or compound time ("chiefly British variation"), is a time signature or meter in which each measure is divided into three or more parts, or two uneven parts (as opposed to two even parts, called simple metre), calling for the measures to be played with principal and subordinate metric accents (the latter called subaccents), causing the sensation of beats. In Western music, the predominant form of compound meter is the division into three parts, often preferring to reduce a higher number of parts to written time signature changes, but more parts are possible, and frequently used, for example, in Balkan music; some examples are given in the article Bulgarian dances.

Examples of compound meter:
* 6/8 divided into two equal parts, also called compound duple meter, i.e., a primary accent on the first 1/8 note, a subordinate accent on the fourth 1/8 note, and the rest of the 1/8 notes may have accents subordinate to that.
* 9/8 divided into three parts, also called compound triple meter, i.e., a primary accent on the first 1/8 note, subordinate accents on the fourth and seventh 1/8 notes, and the rest of the 1/8 notes may have accents subordinate to that.
* 12/8 divided into four equal parts, also called compound quadruple meter. A primary accent on the first 1/8 note and subordinate accents on the fourth, seventh and tenth 1/8 notes

For example, 6/8 can be divided into two parts, in effect making it into a duple meter, of three quavers (eighth notes) each, making it compound meter (compound duple meter), having 2 beats of the length of a dotted quarter/crotchet. But 6/8 can also be divided into three parts, in effect becoming a 3-time. This interpretational switch has been exploited, for example, by Leonard Bernstein, in the song "America" from "West Side Story", as can be heard in the prominent motif:

British rock musician Sting uses the 9/8 time signature on his 1996 song "I Hung My Head" from the "Mercury Falling" album. He uses it by playing 8 eighth notes (in effect, using a normal 4/4 time signature), just followed by a single eighth note. Thus, the division becomes: 4/8+4/8+1/8=9/8.

British progressive rock band Genesis uses the 9/8 time signature in Part 6, titled Apocalypse in 9/8, of their epic "Supper's Ready", off the 1972 album "Foxtrot".

Compound meter divided into three parts can be transcribed into musically equivalent simple meter using triplets. Likewise, simple meter can be shown in compound through duples.

Compound time is associated with "lilting" and dance-like qualities. Folk dances often use compound time. Many of the stereotypical Baroque dances are often in compound time: some gigues, the courante, and sometimes the passepied and the siciliana.


* Paul Hindemith, "Elementary training for musicians", ISBN 0901938165.

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