12/8—My Favorite Time Signature
12/8 is an amazing time signature. (Actually, they’re all amazing; saying one is my favorite is like saying which of my arms is my favorite.) But 12/8 a good example of how insanely complicated rhythm can be. Because 12 is divisible by 3, 4 and 6, it’s possible to be playing in 3 and 4 and 6 all at the same time! Sounds crazy, right? But jazz, blues, R&B, gospel, and some types of rock music all depend heavily on 12/8 time. It comes originally from West African rhythms; the music of Africa is the basis of much of today’s music.
12/8 is also known as triplet time, and it’s counted 1-trip-let 2-trip-let 3-trip-let 4-trip-let. There are twelve beats to it (and it’s written in 8th notes; that’s the 8 of 12/8), but you can also think of it as counting by 3 and 4 at the same time! That leads to such fascinating drum beats as the jazz waltz; Dreams by The Allman Brothers and Shaman’s Blues by the Doors are good examples of that. Shuffle is a fun rhythm; you can hear it in the Beatles’ song With A Little Help From My Friends, or Reelin’ In the Years by Steely Dan. (That last one is a fast one, so if you’re counting it by triplets, you could hurt yourself LOL! An easier way to count a shuffle beat is 1-a* 2-a 3-a 4-a.) Counting by numbers, 1 through 12, is another way to think of 12/8 – the simplest way, really – and if you want to get fancy, you can add the in-between beats: 1&2&3&, etc. When you do that, you can play cymbal on the 8th notes (1-12), snare on 4 and 10, bass on 1, 7, and the “ands” (&) of 2, 5, 8 and 11, and you can learn to count it by 6’s for one bar, then by 4’s for another bar. You count that 1-trip-a*-let 2-trip-a-let 3-trip-a-let 4-trip-a-let, so the in-between beats (the “ands”) are counted as “a*” beats (these are different than the “a*” beats in shuffle, which go on the 3rd beat of a triplet, and these go in between beats. I told you rhythm was complicated!). WARNING: DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME! 😉 Well, take drum lessons with me for a year or two and then try it at home!
*(These a’s are pronounced “uh” rather than like the letter A – like “a” in “reading a book”: in normal conversation, you don’t say “I’m reading A book,” you pronounce it like “I’m reading uh book.” Same here. “Uh” beats are easy to confuse with “duh” beats, but that’s a subject for another blog – see my blog about Uh beats vs. Duh beats.)