Coaching for worship ministries

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Has Cory Asbury been reckless?

Every now and then, something happens in Christendom so controversial that it causes arguments, church splits, even wars.

Recently I have witness such fury expressed via the medium of social media that I can only surmise we have stumbled into another such hot bed of ecclesiastical mania.

This, friends, isn't the discussion about whether or not God's love is reckless. God's love is utterly bonkers and, in the grand scheme of things, almost infinitely one-sided, so in that regard let's agree we can describe it as reckless. Or not. You can continue that argument in your own time.

No, this is a yet more divisive issue: is the song written with the time signature 4/4 or 6/8?

Time signatures – a crash course

For those without music theory training, here's a quick run-down of what a time signature means.

Written at the beginning of musical score, the time signature (or 'meter') is an instruction, written like a fraction, which tells a musician how to count.

This is what it looks like:


The top digit denotes how many beats are in the bar, and the bottom digit indicates what length each of those notes is when written down on the musical score.

So 4/4, the ubiquitous meter that epitomises the vast majority of modern music, comprises 4 beats each lasting a 'quarter note' (the bottom 4).

Some music only has 3 beats in bar – think "Amazing Grace". This is written as 3/4 – meaning 3 quarter notes.


In contrast, other songs make use of 6/8, meaning 6 eighth notes. This is what that looks like:

6-8.jpegThose with an understanding of fractions will recognise that 6/8 and 3/4 are equivalent, which is ostensibly true. Played at the same tempo, a bar of 3/4 and a bar of 6/8 lasts for the same length of time. They differ in how you group the beats together, and where you place the accent in the bar.

Bars have accents described as a downbeat and a backbeat. On a drumkit this is often marked by the use of a kick drum and a snare drum, but more viscerally, you might think of breathing out and in...


How to 'breathe' time signatures

In 4/4: count in measures of 4, breathing OUT on beat 1, and IN on beat 3.

one two three four

In 3/4: count in measures of 3, breathing OUT on beat 1, and IN on beat 3.

one two three

Alternatively, you could breathe in two short breaths on beats 2 & 3. This feels like a Waltz. Try not to hyperventilate.

one two three

In 6/8: count in measures of 6, breathing OUT on beat 1, and IN on beat 4. That's two groups of 3. It has a lovely lilt.

one two three four five six

Bear with me. We're getting to the song.

The time signature doesn't dictate the shortest note that can be used, merely how the beats should be counted. A beat can be further divided up into smaller units – often 2s or 3s.

Let's take 4/4 as an example and divide each beat in 2. Now we can count it like this:

one and two and three and four and

Or we could divide each beat into three:

one and a two and a three and a four and a

Let's divide each beat of 6/8 in two:

one and two and three and four and five and six and

Now this is interesting. Those last two examples both have 12 'units', and they both have accents in the same place. The "THREE" of our 4/4 bar coincides with the "FOUR" of our 6/8 bar when they're subdivided like this.

This is the root of the confusion with Reckless love. Some people hear the music and think they're hearing 4/4, with subdivions of 3, and others think they're hearing 6/8, with subdivisons of 2.

Who's right?

The_Dress_(viral_phenomenon).pngThis is that dress from 2015 in music form. People see it one way, and are incredulous that others take a different view. I, too, took a strong position (both with the dress photo, and with this song).

I'd only ever heard Reckless Love as 6/8, and there are a few cues in the music that give that impression. I simply didn't understand why some were interpreting it as 4/4. Then we had a dinner party. The song was on quietly in the background—so quietly that I couldn't hear the subdivisions at all, just the melody and the kick / snare patterns—and the song was suddenly a convincing 4/4 for the most part. This led me to wonder whether I could deliberately trick myself into hearing it how others have heard it.

So I put the song on in the car, and counted "one and a two and a THREE and a four and a" ALL the way through. It did the trick – my brain totally flipped, and I could hear it as a 4/4 track!

However… there is a right answer. The right answer is 6/8.

The song uses strong syncopation that deliberately crosses over the natural beat, so there's a strong hint of 4/4. But you can hear in the rhythms that singer Cory Asbury uses at the ends of many of the vocal lines that the stresses are consistent with the 6/8 count and incompatible with the 4/4 count. The cues are subtle, but they're there.

Does it matter?

Not really. The confusion exists because the music is a little ambiguous. There'll be musicians who, in an attempt to clear things up, deliberately play the music with less ambiguity (as this wonderfully tongue-in-cheek video demonstrates) – at that point, it'll end up sounding simply 'wrong' to listeners who fall into the opposing camp.

But otherwise, how much does it matter if you hear it differently to me? And does it matter if you see a white and gold dress and I see a blue and black dress?

Post your comments below. I'd love to know what you think.

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