Method of counting 1/16 th notes in 12/8 time

Many teachers and Music Theory sites will tell you that you count 12/8 time out in 1/8th notes. Well yes this is true but this is only good if you are using 1/8th notes all the time, which is a bit repetitive. To be more musical and creative you are at some point going to want to subdivide  the beat into other compound time configurations so sticking rigidly to counting the beat in 1/8 th notes is not going to be helpful and possibly it may actually become difficult. My method for counting in 12/8 time jumps ahead and actually uses the 1/16th notes to make the count assuming that this is the most useful and likely subdivision of the 1/8th note beat that you will use and encounter.

Lets start with some theory.  12/8 time is actually a beat of 4 dotted quarter notes ( crochets). This subdivides into 3 x 1/8 th notes per beat. So this is 3 x  1/8 th notes for every one of the 4 dotted quarter notes. This gives you the total of 12 eighth  notes per bar. Here is a visual representation.

So now we have the basics we can move on to the count itself. The conventional way of counting 1/8 th notes in a 12/8 time are either as

  • Triplets – 1 Trip Let, 2 Trip Let, 3 Trip Let, 4 Trip Let although I actually prefer 1 Trip per, 2 Trip per, 3 Trip per etc because it is shorter and because I find the L in Let rather slow and cumbersome to pronounce whereas I find Per is a lot quicker and easier. Really just find what suits you best.
  • Use numbers – 123. This method involves changing only the first number in each group sequence whilst the 23 remain constant.      123 – 223 – 323 – 423  then start again at 123

This method of counting in 1/8th notes has it’s limitations when we want to subdivide the beat into 1/16 th notes and beyond. With 1/16 th notes there are 2 of these to every 1/8 th note so each dotted quarter note now has a total of  6  x  1/16 th notes giving  4 x 6 = 24  x 1/16 th notes to each Bar.

My method of counting jumps beyond the conventional 1/8 th note count and jumps straight to the 1/16 th note count instead because this is the most useful subdivision for the 12/8 count giving multiple creative possibilities in compound time.

What we need to understand is that 2 x 1/16 th notes is the same a 1 x 1/8 th note. So each time we encounter a 1/8 th note this will use 2 beats from our count.

We are going to count in groups of 6 instead of groups of 3. So each dotted quarter will have 6 beats instead of  the 3 that we associate with the 1/8 th note count. So we have

123456          223456        323456    423456     corresponding to

                                                                             and  what would be

123                    223                  323              423        in 1/8 th note count

1-Trip-per    2-Trip-per   3 Trip-per    4 Trip-per

Short Cut Methods for using the 1/16 beat counting pattern in 12/8 time

Short cut methods now exist in the 123456 count. For example we can quickly realise that  an eighth note will use 2 beats of the count and a dotted eighth note will use 3 beats of the count so we can use combinations of these and sixteenth notes which use only 1 beat of the count. A quarter note (crochet) will use up 4 beats of the 6 beat count. Understanding this will quickly allow us to make compound and complex rhythmic structures within the 12/8 time. We also have the advantage that we know where we are  at any point within the bar. Complex/ Compound rhythm is not easy when counting only in 3 x 1/8 notes because it requires that you make mental jumps to count subdivisions within that framework.

Here is a visual of what we have covered so far.

note values in my 12/8 time counting system

The graphic above shows how the count of 1-6 applies to the various notes you are likely to encounter when the beat is subdivided up to the 16th note beat. Anything beyond and counting becomes rather ridiculously complicated so should be more about feel and cramming than actually counting.

The next graphic shows how to apply the count as a steady beat throughout each bar.

an example of counting a 1/16th beat in 12/8 time framework

PNG is probably not ideal to display these things so here it is in a downloadable Pdf format. Don’t say I don’t give you anything.

Keep your Eighth beat count going within your 1/16 th beat count.

Also  using a 6 x beat count it is also possible to also simultaneously keep an  1/8 th beat count going within that structure. For example whilst counting  123456  223456 etc you could tap your foot to the underlying 1/8 th beat rhythm by understanding where in the count the 1/8 th beats fall. The 1/8 th beats fall on the 1 ( first beat of the 6  beat pattern)  then the 3 then the 5 of the count.

So    1 2 3 4 6         2  2  3  4 5 6       3 2 3 4 5 6     etc

So it should now be possible to build and understand compound and complex rhythmic structures using the 3 methods of foot tapping, short cuts and  the 1/16 th beat count of 123456 instead of the conventional basic  123 of the 1/8th note count.

I have now gone on to improve this counting method by developing it even further into a new improved system for counting in 12/8 time. This new & improved system is now available only to members by following this link.

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