There are many ways the 6/8 feel is utilized in music but the most common is associated with the Celtic-folk. This loping waltz feel allows for swaying dancing and creates a nostalgic vibe for songwriting. In this lesson we are going to take a look at a hand-to-hand approach to this feel to provide a starting place for those of you who are new to brushes and to this 6/8 feel.

Depending on the tempo, 6/8 may be counted as 1-2-3-4-5-6 (for slower tempos) with the backbeat landing on beat 4, or 1 (and ah) 2 (and ah) with an emphasis on the dotted quarter (for faster tempos) where the backbeat lands on 2—how you count it is up to you.

Good pop examples of this feel are songs such as “Fourth Time Around” (Bob Dylan), “Hide Your Love Away” (The Beatles), “The Yo Yo Man” (Echo and the Bunnymen), “1,000 Years” (Christina Perri), and “Astral Weeks” (Van Morrison).

Start by playing the pattern in Ex. 1.


Ex. 1

An added wrinkle that works really well in 6/8 is to superimpose a subtle 2-over-3 polyrhythm by slightly accenting (not as strong as the backbeat) every third sixteenth-note. This action is notated in Ex. 2 with circled stickings and ghost note indicators around the quietest notes. The circled notes may be played louder to make the polyrhythm more obvious, but make sure these are sprinkled in sparingly.


Ex. 2

Finally, the bass drum can be added to the pattern to create more rhythmic diversity. The pattern in Ex. 3 is a one suggestion, but there are many bass drum patterns that you could create on your own.

Ex. 3

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.

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