The upper and lower numbers in compound time signatures need to be treated as follows:
To determine the number of beats per bar, divide the upper number by three. For example, in 6/8, there are 2 beats per measure. The pulse in a compound 6/8 will have two dotted quarter-note (crotchet) beats, and each beat will subdivide into a group of three eighth notes.
To identify the "beat unit" (i.e. which type of note represents one beat), multiply the note value represented by the lower number by three. In 6/8, the lower number ( represents the note value of an eighth note. Multiplying that note value by three gives a unit of a dotted quarter note, or 3 eighth notes.
For example, 12/8 time would be counted: One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve.
In compound time, the beat unit is always a dotted note value. The most common compound time signatures are 6/8, 9/8 and 12/8, denoting two, three and four dotted quarter note beats per bar.
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