The phrases of the 18th-century French court gavotte begin in the middle of the bar, creating a half-measure (half-bar) upbeat. However the music for the earlier court gavotte, first described by Thoinot Arbeau in 1589, invariably began on the downbeat of a duple measure. Later composers also wrote gavottes that began on the downbeat rather than on the half-measure: an example is Jean-Philippe Rameau's Gavotte Variée in A minor for keyboard. Various folk gavottes found in mid-20th-century Brittany are danced to music in 4
8, and 5
In the ball-room the gavotte was often paired with a preceding triple-time minuet: both dances are stately, and the gavotte's lifted step contrasted with the shuffling minuet step. It had a steady rhythm, not broken up into faster notes.
In the Baroque suite the gavotte is played after (or sometimes before) the sarabande. Like most dance movements of the Baroque period it is typically in binary form but this may be extended by a second melody in the same metre, often one called the musette, having a pedal drone to imitate the French bagpipes, played after the first to create a grand ternary form; A–(A)–B–A. There is a Gavotte en Rondeau ("Gavotte in rondo form") in J.S. Bach's Partita No. 3 in E Major for solo violin, BWV 1006.
The gavotte could be played at a variety of tempi: Johann Gottfried Walther wrote that the gavotte is "often quick but occasionally slow".