The world of music is vast and diverse, with various rhythms and melodies that have captivated audiences for centuries. One rhythm is the 6/8 time signature, a unique and often emotionally resonant beat that has been used in countless songs across various genres.
This article will delve into the vast realm of songs in 6/8, exploring their structure, significance, and the reasons behind their enduring appeal.
What Are Songs in 6/8 Time?
Songs in 6/8 time are pieces of music that are structured around the specific 6/8 time signature. A time signature tells musicians how many beats are in each measure of a piece of music and what kind of note gets one beat.
In the case of 6/8 time, there are six beats in each measure, and the eighth note gets one beat. This time signature is notable for its rhythmic feel, which often has a flowing, rolling quality. This is due to the division of the six beats into two groups of three (like two sets of triplets), giving the music a sort of lilting, waltz-like feel but with a quicker pace.
One of the unique characteristics of music in 6/8 time is that it’s fluid. This makes it a popular choice for a variety of music styles, including ballads, folk music, and even some rock and pop songs. This rhythm can be particularly effective for conveying emotion or drama in a song.
Songs composed in 6/8 time have a rhythmic pattern that often gives the music a “swaying” or “rolling” feel, which can be very effective in setting a particular mood or atmosphere. This is different from more straightforward time signatures like 4/4, where the beat is typically more even or march-like.
When performing, musicians might count 6/8 as “one-two-three-four-five-six,” emphasizing the first and fourth beats to capture that characteristic rolling rhythm. This time signature allows for a wide range of expressiveness and has been used in various musical genres, from classical compositions to modern pop songs.
Here are a few songs in 6/8 time that stood out to us. If you’re looking to learn how to play any of them, all the chords can be found on Guitar Tabs or another tab website.
1. House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
House of the Rising Sun, performed by The Animals, is a compelling example of a song in 6/8. This track, known for its haunting melody and vivid storytelling, tells the tale of a life gone awry in New Orleans. Although this version was not originally written by The Animals, they brought the song to the forefront of rock. Its arpeggiated guitar playing and Eric Burdon’s powerful vocals make it a standout track. The song’s structure revolves around the flow of 6/8 time, giving it a distinctive, almost waltz-like rhythm that is both engaging and melancholic.
The song’s origins are somewhat mysterious, with many believing it to be an old folk song. Even though the song has been covered by many artists, The Animals’ rendition remains the most famous.
2. From the Inside – Linkin Park
Linkin Park’s From the Inside, from their studio album Meteora, showcases the band’s versatility. This song is a powerful slow-tempo ballad, at odds with their usual aggressive vocals. The rhythm gives the song an intense, almost brooding quality, complemented by Chester Bennington’s emotive vocals. It features dynamic shifts from softer verses to a more robust, angst-filled chorus, a hallmark of Linkin Park’s playing style.
From the Inside reflects the band’s exploration of personal themes like internal conflict and emotional struggle.
3. Shine On You Crazy Diamond – Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd’s Shine On You Crazy Diamond is a tribute to their former bandmate, Syd Barrett. This song, a masterpiece in the world of rock music, stands out for its extensive use of the 6/8 time signature. Spanning several parts across two different segments of their album Wish You Were Here, this track features some of the most memorable guitar solos and progressive rock elements. The song’s structure, alternating between instrumental passages and lyrical sections, showcases the band’s skill in composing and arranging complex pieces.
The song is known for its lengthy instrumental sections and has become a staple in Pink Floyd’s live performances.
4. I Put A Spell On You – Creedence Clearwater Revival
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s rendition of I Put A Spell On You is another famous song composed in 6/8 time. Originally written by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, this version by CCR adds a rock twist to the classic track. John Fogerty’s raw and powerful vocal delivery, combined with the band’s tight musicianship, makes this song a standout in their discography. The 6/8 rhythm lends a hypnotic quality to the song, enhancing its spellbinding theme.
5. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away – The Beatles
The Beatles’ You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away was written primarily by John Lennon. It’s a famous and poignant track from their album Help! This song stands out for its introspective lyrics and Lennon’s heartfelt vocal delivery. The use of acoustic guitar and flute gives it a folk-like quality, differentiating it from many other songs by the Beatles. The 6/8 rhythm here adds a sense of longing and vulnerability, aligning perfectly with the song’s emotional tone.
John Lennon was actually said to be influenced by Bob Dylan’s style when writing this song. It was one of the first Beatles songs to include an instrument that wasn’t played by one of the band members- in this case, the flute.
6. Subterranean Homesick Alien – Radiohead
Radiohead’s Subterranean Homesick Alien, from their critically acclaimed album OK Computer, is a prime example of songs in 6/8 that blend alternative rock with experimental elements. The song features ethereal guitar work, the use of electronic effects and innovative soundscapes, and Thom Yorke’s distinct vocals, creating an otherworldly atmosphere. The 6/8 time signature contributes to the song’s dreamy and slightly off-kilter feel, perfectly encapsulating its theme of alienation and escapism.
The title is a nod to Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”
7. Breaking The Girl – Red Hot Chili Peppers
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Breaking The Girl from their album Blood Sugar Sex Magik is a testament to the band’s ability to diversify their sound. This song, a slow-tempo ballad in 6/8, contrasts with the band’s typically energetic style. It features a rich arrangement with a variety of instruments, including a 12-string guitar, a middle section with a percussion ensemble, and a mellotron. The 6/8 rhythm imbues the song with a melancholic and introspective quality, highlighting the emotional depth of the lyrics.
The song was reportedly inspired by Anthony Kiedis’s relationship experiences.
8. Nothing Else Matters – Metallica
Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters is one of the most famous songs in the band’s repertoire and a notable example of a rock ballad in 6/8. Originally written by James Hetfield, this song marked a departure from the band’s usual thrash metal style. The song features a prominent guitar solo and Hetfield’s powerful vocals, set against the backdrop of the 6/8 rhythm that gives the song a sweeping, epic feel.
Nothing Else Matters was initially not intended for release, as Hetfield wrote it for his then-girlfriend. However, once it was released, it became a famous part of Metallica’s live shows and is often accompanied by an orchestra.
9. She’s Always a Woman – Billy Joel
Billy Joel’s She’s Always a Woman is a song that beautifully showcases the 6/8 time signature, featured on his album The Stranger. This song is a tribute to Joel’s then-wife, Elizabeth Weber. It stands out for its poignant lyrics and delicate piano accompaniment. The 6/8 rhythm lends a waltz-like quality to the song, enhancing its romantic and introspective nature. Joel’s skillful piano playing and heartfelt vocals make this song a standout in his discography.
The song is known for its complex and sophisticated lyrics, which paint a nuanced picture of the woman it’s about. It was a significant hit for Joel, further cementing his status as a masterful songwriter and performer.
10. Kiss From a Rose – Seal
Seal’s Kiss From a Rose is a song that gained immense popularity, partly due to its inclusion in the soundtrack for the film Batman Forever. This track is a lush, atmospheric ballad that showcases Seal’s soulful vocals. The rhythm contributes to the song’s sweeping, cinematic quality, making it one of the most memorable songs of the 90s. Its blend of pop, soul, and rock elements, along with the distinctive rhythm, creates a unique and timeless sound.
Its lyrics are open to interpretation, with Seal himself acknowledging the song’s mysterious and multi-layered nature. The song won multiple Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year. It’s no wonder that so many people pick this to learn when playing guitar.
11. Let Me Roll It – Paul McCartney and Wings
Let Me Roll It by Paul McCartney and Wings is a song that blends elements of rock and blues. The track is known for its distinctive guitar riff and McCartney’s impassioned vocal performance. The 6/8 rhythm gives the song a driving, insistent quality, complementing its raw energy and bluesy vibe. This track is a testament to McCartney’s versatility as a songwriter and musician, capable of crafting songs that are both catchy and deeply resonant.
The song is often interpreted as a nod to John Lennon, particularly due to its similarity in style to some of Lennon’s solo work. McCartney has frequently included the song in his live performances, where it remains a fan favorite.
12. Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
Jeff Buckley’s rendition of Hallelujah, originally written by Leonard Cohen, is perhaps one of the most famous and emotionally powerful versions of the song. Featured on Buckley’s album Grace, this version is known for its haunting beauty, largely due to Buckley’s ethereal vocals and the sparse yet effective guitar arrangement. The use of 6/8 time imparts a sense of solemnity and reverence, perfectly matching the song’s spiritual and introspective themes.
Buckley’s version brought renewed attention to Leonard Cohen’s original song and has since become a classic in its own right. With a few basic chords, the song has been covered by numerous artists, but Buckley’s version is often considered the definitive interpretation.
13. Never Tear Us Apart – INXS
INXS’s Never Tear Us Apart is a standout track from their album Kick, renowned for its soulful depth and the use of a 6/8 time signature. This song showcases a more introspective side of the band, with a powerful saxophone solo and Michael Hutchence’s emotive vocals. The 6/8 rhythm lends a sweeping, almost cinematic feel to the song, enhancing its romantic and heartfelt lyrics. Never Tear Us Apart is a testament to INXS’s ability to blend rock with elements of soul and pop, creating an enduring classic.
The song’s music video was shot in various locations in Prague. Never Tear Us Apart has been used in numerous films and TV shows, adding to its cultural significance.
14. You Lost Me – Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera’s You Lost Me from her album Bionic is a heartfelt ballad that perfectly showcases her vocal prowess. This song in 6/8 stands out for its emotional intensity and the raw vulnerability in Aguilera’s voice. The rhythm complements the song’s theme of heartbreak and betrayal, giving it a haunting and poignant quality. The minimalist arrangement, focusing on piano and subtle orchestration, allows Aguilera’s powerful vocals to take center stage.
Aguilera co-wrote the song, which is reflective of her personal experiences.
15. Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande
Dangerous Woman, a song by Ariana Grande from the album of the same name, marks a departure from her earlier pop-oriented works. This track, set in a sultry 6/8 time, showcases Grande’s vocal range and her ability to infuse songs with a sense of empowerment. The 6/8 rhythm adds a sense of allure and confidence to the song, aligning with its theme of embracing one’s strength and sexuality. Dangerous Woman blends elements of pop and R&B, demonstrating Grande’s versatility as an artist.
16. Can’t Help Falling In Love – Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley’s Can’t Help Falling In Love is one of the most iconic and enduring love songs of all time. Featured in his film Blue Hawaii, this song is a beautiful example of a slow-tempo ballad in 6/8. The simplicity of the arrangement, featuring Elvis’s tender vocals accompanied by gentle instrumentation, allows the emotional depth of the song to shine through. The 6/8 rhythm adds a romantic, waltz-like quality, making it a popular choice at weddings and romantic occasions.
Can’t Help Falling In Love has been covered by numerous artists but remains a huge part of Elvis Presley’s legacy.
17. Latch by Disclosure ft Sam Smith
Latch, by the electronic duo Disclosure featuring Sam Smith, marked a significant moment in the landscape of modern electronic music. Featured on Disclosure’s album Settle, this song uniquely blends electronic beats with a 6/8 time signature, creating a rhythmically complex and captivating track. Sam Smith’s soulful vocals add a rich, emotive dimension to the song, complementing its energetic and syncopated electronic backdrop. The fusion of electronic sounds with the 6/8 rhythm illustrates the versatility of this time signature beyond traditional genres.
Latch was a breakthrough hit for both Disclosure and Sam Smith, propelling them into the spotlight. The song was praised for its innovative blend of garage-house rhythms and soulful vocals.
18. Everybody Hurts – R.E.M.
Everybody Hurts by R.E.M., from their album Automatic for the People, is a song that resonates deeply with listeners due to its universal message of hope and empathy. The track is set in a 6/8 time signature, which contributes to its slow, reflective rhythm. This rhythm, coupled with Michael Stipe’s heartfelt vocals and the song’s simple yet powerful lyrics, creates an anthem of solace and understanding. Everybody Hurts has become one of R.E.M.’s most beloved and enduring songs, showcasing their ability to connect with audiences on an emotional level.
The song was intended to reach out to people who felt they had nowhere to turn. In fact, it has been used in various campaigns related to mental health and suicide prevention.
19. Blue Ain’t Your Color – Keith Urban
Blue Ain’t Your Color from the album Ripcord is a modern take on classic country music, incorporating elements of blues and soul. The song is characterized by its 6/8 time signature, which gives it a waltz-like rhythm, enhancing the track’s melancholic yet smooth feel. Urban’s emotive vocals and the song’s lyrical content, expressing the pain of seeing a loved one unhappy, resonate with listeners. The 6/8 rhythm complements the song’s bluesy undertones, creating a rich and immersive listening experience.
The song was a commercial success, topping the country music charts. Blue Ain’t Your Color received widespread acclaim for its classic sound and Urban’s vocal performance.
20. Five Years – David Bowie
Five Years, the opening track of David Bowie’s iconic album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, is a powerful song that showcases Bowie’s storytelling prowess. Set in a 6/8 time signature, the song creates a sense of urgency and drama, fitting for its apocalyptic narrative. Bowie’s emotive delivery and the song’s dynamic arrangement — building from a gentle start to a powerful climax — make Five Years a compelling and unforgettable track. The 6/8 rhythm adds to the song’s intensity, driving the narrative forward with a sense of inevitable progression.
21. With A Little Help From My Friends – Joe Cocker
Joe Cocker’s rendition of With A Little Help From My Friends, originally by The Beatles, is a powerful reinterpretation that has become iconic in its own right. Featured at the Woodstock festival and on his album of the same name, Cocker’s version is known for its raw intensity and soulful arrangement. The song, set in a 6/8 time signature, is transformed into a dynamic and emotional blues-rock anthem. Cocker’s gritty, passionate vocal delivery, combined with the song’s driving rhythm and powerful instrumentation, exemplifies the potential of 6/8 to create deeply moving musical experiences.
Joe Cocker’s version is significantly different from the original, featuring a more complex arrangement and a slower tempo. The performance of this song at Woodstock in 1969 is considered one of the highlights of the festival.
22. Judith – A Perfect Circle
Judith by A Perfect Circle, from their debut album Mer de Noms, stands out as a hard-hitting and emotionally charged track. The song is set in a 6/8 time signature, which contributes to its aggressive and rhythmic intensity. Lead singer Maynard James Keenan delivers a powerful vocal performance full of raw emotion and biting lyricism. The song’s driving beat and dynamic changes showcase the band’s ability to blend alternative rock with a more progressive, experimental sound, all while utilizing the unique properties of the 6/8 rhythm.
The song is known for its emotional depth and was written about Keenan’s mother and her religious beliefs. Judith is often praised for its complex rhythms and Keenan’s intense vocal delivery.
23. A Thousand Years – Christina Perri
Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years, featured in the movie The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1, is a heartfelt ballad that has resonated with fans worldwide. This song’s 6/8 time signature contributes to its sweeping, romantic feel, perfectly capturing the essence of enduring love. Perri’s tender vocals, combined with the song’s lush instrumentation, create a sense of timeless devotion and emotional depth. The rhythm’s waltz-like quality adds to the song’s dreamy and ethereal atmosphere, making it a popular choice for weddings and romantic occasions.
A Thousand Years has become one of Christina Perri’s most popular and enduring songs.
24. Tightrope – Michelle Williams
Tightrope, performed by Michelle Williams for the film The Greatest Showman, is a song that combines elements of pop and musical theatre. This song is part of the film’s narrative, reflecting the character’s emotional journey and struggles. Set in a 6/8 time signature, Tightrope features a captivating rhythm that underscores its themes of balance, risk, and love.
Williams’ dynamic vocal performance, along with the song’s theatrical arrangement, brings a sense of drama and excitement. The 6/8 rhythm enhances the song’s narrative quality, echoing the highs and lows of walking a metaphorical tightrope in life and love.
25. This Place Is A Prison – The Postal Service
This Place Is A Prison by The Postal Service, from their album Give Up, showcases a different side of the 6/8 time signature, blending it with elements of indie electronic music. This song stands out for its atmospheric synths and introspective lyrics, capturing a sense of isolation and longing. The 6/8 rhythm adds to the song’s brooding quality, providing a rhythmic backdrop that complements its melancholic theme. The Postal Service’s unique blend of electronic sounds and emotive songwriting is exemplified in this track, making it a memorable piece in their discography.
The Postal Service is known for their innovative use of electronic music elements in an indie context.
26. Yesterday – Imagine Dragons
Yesterday by Imagine Dragons, featured on their album Evolve, is a dynamic song that utilizes the 6/8 time signature to create a rhythmically engaging and energetic track. The song is known for its soaring vocals and anthemic quality, characteristic of the band’s style. The 6/8 rhythm lends a sense of drive and momentum to the song, enhancing its uplifting and powerful feel. Imagine Dragons’ ability to fuse pop-rock elements with catchy melodies is on full display in Yesterday, making it a standout track in their repertoire.
27. The Kill – 30 Seconds to Mars
The Kill by 30 Seconds to Mars, from their album A Beautiful Lie, is a song that has become an anthem in the alternative rock genre. The track’s use of a 6/8 time signature adds to its dramatic and intense atmosphere. The song features powerful vocals, emotional lyrics, and a driving rhythm that builds to a climactic chorus. The 6/8 rhythm underpins the song’s sense of urgency and passion, highlighting the band’s skill in crafting songs that are both emotionally resonant and rhythmically compelling.
The Kill is often considered one of 30 Seconds to Mars’ most iconic songs. The song’s music video, which references The Shining, received acclaim for its cinematic quality.
28. We Are The Champions – Queen
We Are The Champions by Queen, one of the most iconic songs in rock music history, is a powerful anthem known worldwide. While not entirely in 6/8, it incorporates sections of this time signature, contributing to its grand and anthemic quality. Freddie Mercury’s dynamic vocal performance, combined with the band’s majestic arrangement, creates a song that has resonated with audiences for generations. The sections in 6/8 give the song a unique rhythmic flavor, enhancing its triumphant and celebratory feel, making it a popular choice at sporting events and celebrations.
29. The Irish Washerwoman – Traditional
The Irish Washerwoman is a traditional Irish jig, widely known and often played in the context of Irish folk music. This piece is a classic example of a song in 6/8, embodying the spirited and lively rhythm characteristic of jigs. The tune is typically played on instruments like the fiddle, accordion, and tin whistle and features quick, upbeat tempos. The 6/8 time signature is central to its danceable quality, making it a favorite at gatherings and traditional Irish dance events.
The song has been played and recorded by numerous artists, often serving as a representation of Irish cultural heritage.
30. Golden Brown – The Stranglers
Golden Brown by The Stranglers, from their album La Folie, stands out as a unique and somewhat enigmatic song in the post-punk era. Noted for its unusual time signature, which alternates between 6/8 and 7/8, this song is known for its mesmerizing harpsichord riff and hypnotic melody. The 6/8 sections of the song contribute to its waltz-like, dreamy feel juxtaposed with the more jarring 7/8 parts. Golden Brown is celebrated for its lyrical ambiguity and the blending of classical music elements with a contemporary sound, showcasing The Stranglers’ innovative approach to songwriting.
The song’s lyrics have been a subject of debate, with various interpretations offered by listeners and critics.
31. Gravity – John Mayer
Gravity by John Mayer, from his live album Where the Light Is, is a soulful blues ballad that effectively utilizes the 6/8 time signature. This song stands out for its expressive guitar work and Mayer’s emotive vocal performance. The 6/8 rhythm lends a gentle, swaying quality to the song, enhancing its introspective and reflective lyrics.
Gravity is often praised for its simplicity and depth, showcasing Mayer’s skill as a songwriter and musician and his ability to convey profound emotions through subtle musical nuances.
The song won a Grammy Award for Best Solo Rock Vocal Performance.
32. Lights – Journey
Lights by Journey, from their album Infinity, is a classic rock song that captures the spirit of San Francisco, the city that inspired it. This track features a 6/8 time signature, contributing to its flowing and melodic rhythm. The song is known for Steve Perry’s powerful vocals and Neal Schon’s distinctive guitar playing. The use of 6/8 time gives Lights a sense of nostalgia and longing, resonating with listeners who have a deep connection to places they call home.
The song has become an anthem for the city of San Francisco and is often played at sporting events in the area.
33. Love Reign O’er Me – The Who
Love Reign O’er Me by The Who, from their rock opera album Quadrophenia, is a powerful and emotive song that showcases the band’s musical prowess. The track makes use of the 6/8 time signature to create a dramatic and intense sound, with Roger Daltrey’s soaring vocals and the band’s dynamic instrumentation. The song’s climax is particularly notable for its emotional intensity, driven by the rhythmic and melodic power of the 6/8 time signature.
Love Reign O’er Me serves as the climax of The Who’s Quadrophenia, a concept album that tells the story of a young mod named Jimmy. The song is often regarded as one of The Who’s greatest compositions, showcasing their ability to blend rock with orchestral elements.
34. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) – The Beatles
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) by The Beatles, from their album Rubber Soul is one of the best songs in 6/8 time. It’s a tune that marked a turning point in the band’s musical direction. Featuring a 6/8 time signature, the song is known for its distinctive use of the sitar, played by George Harrison, which added an element of Indian music to their sound. The 6/8 rhythm, combined with the folk-inspired melody and John Lennon’s witty lyrics, gives the song a unique and somewhat exotic feel.
Norwegian Wood is one of the first Western rock songs to incorporate the sitar, an Indian stringed instrument.
35. Call Me – Blondie
Call Me by Blondie, the theme song for the film American Gigolo, is an upbeat new wave and rock track that gained immense popularity in the 1980s. Although primarily in 4/4, the song includes sections in 6/8, adding a dynamic and driving quality to its structure. Debbie Harry’s iconic vocals and the song’s catchy hook make it a quintessential track of the era. The shift to 6/8 time in certain sections of this song adds an unexpected twist to its rhythm, contributing to its energetic and danceable feel.
Call Me was a number-one hit and became one of the best-selling singles of 1980.
How to Count in 6/8 Time
Understanding how to count in 6/8 time is crucial for musicians and music enthusiasts alike, as it allows for a deeper appreciation and accurate performance of music in this time signature. Counting in 6/8 involves recognizing the rhythmic structure and the emphasis within the time signature. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you master counting in 6/8 time:
Understanding the Basics:
In 6/8 time, there are six beats in each measure, and the eighth note gets one beat. This time signature is often grouped into two main beats per measure, with each main beat containing three sub-beats (eighth notes).
Counting the Beats:
To count 6/8 time, you can use the numbers 1 through 6. Each number represents an eighth note. A simple way to count out loud would be: “1-2-3 4-5-6,” with each number representing one-eighth note.
You can also count 6/8 as two dotted quarter notes, which would sound like: “1… 2…”
Emphasizing the Beat:
In 6/8 time, the first and the fourth beats are typically emphasized. When counting, emphasize “1” and “4” more strongly. For example, count like this: “1-2-3 4-5-6.” This emphasizes the two main beats in each measure.
Practicing with a Metronome:
To get the feel of the 6/8 rhythm, practice counting along with a metronome set to 6 beats per measure. The metronome clicks will help you maintain a steady tempo and understand the rhythmic flow of 6/8.
Applying to Music:
Listen to songs in 6/8 time and practice counting along. Pay attention to how the music flows with your counting. This practice will help you internalize the rhythm and understand how different musical phrases fit within the 6/8 structure.
Feel the Music:
Remember, counting is a tool to help you understand and feel the rhythm. Once you’re comfortable, try to feel the rhythm naturally and let the counting become a background tool.
Final Thoughts on the Best Songs in 6/8 Time
The exploration of songs in 6/8 time reveals a fascinating aspect of musical composition and its impact on the listener’s experience. This time signature, characterized by its unique rhythmic pattern, brings a distinct flavor to a song, often infusing it with a sense of flow, emotion, and dynamism. As we’ve seen through various examples, from the traditional melodies of The Irish Washerwoman to the modern rhythms of John Mayer’s Gravity and other popular songs, the 6/8 time signature is versatile and transcends genres, eras, playing styles, and cultural boundaries.
Whether it’s enhancing the narrative of a song, adding depth to its emotional expression, or simply providing a unique rhythmic feel, the use of this time signature can significantly shape a song’s character and its resonance with audiences.
Songs in 6/8 are more than just a collection of notes and rhythms; they are a testament to the enduring creativity and versatility of musicians across time.