The 6-8 Pattern—Can I Do It In 3/4?

If done properly, 6/8 has the simplest pattern you will ever use. All it has is a downbeat and an upbeat. Conducting in 6/8 is really conducting in 2.

Because of each beat’s three-part subdivision, some song leaders think they can get around this by using a three pattern twice in each measure. However, this shows two downbeats per measure, and improperly represents to the pianist and congregation where the beats are. And since the eighth notes in 6/8 usually go faster than most 3/4 hymns, conducting two 3-patterns per bar gets very exhausting. If the hymn were supposed to be in 3/4 time, Mr. Dwight Armstrong would have written the hymn in 3/4 time!

The 6 in the time signature is talking about the number of eighth notes in the measure. It is divided into two parts: 1-2-3 and 4-5-6, so we could count like this:

1-2-3  4-5-6    1-2-3  4-5-6

In reality though, it is better distinguish the two parts of the measure by counting like this:

1 and uh 2 and uh, 1 and uh 2 and uh

Take special note that both beats go in the same spot. One common flaw with 6/8 song leading is making a outward swoop, but missing the downbeat on the plane altogether.

The prep beat will be an upbeat—or 2 and uh. You use this exact pattern for every hymn in 6/8.

Remember, the idea for all of these—whether 4/4, 3/4, or 6/8—is to make the clearest motion you can. Song leading is all about clarity.