Anyone with an interest in mathematics as well as music may take look at the two time signatures — 3/4 and 6/8 — and initially think they are equivalent. After all, 3/4 is the simplified fraction of 6/8, right?
Well, yes, partly, but in music these are not simple fractions. They denote more than that.
The top number is the number of beats in a bar/measure, while the bottom number is the note type of each beat. Therefore, a 3/4 time signature is three quarter notes/crotchets per bar, while a 6/8 is six eighth notes/quavers per bar.
This also determines a lot of the basic ‘feel’ of the music.
What is 3/4 time?
A 3/4 time signature is a common type of musical meter. It indicates that there are three beats in each measure, and each beat is a quarter note long. This time signature is often referred to as “waltz time” because many waltzes are written in 3/4 time.
In terms of counting, each measure in 3/4 time is counted as “1, 2, 3” with the emphasis on the first beat of each measure. This creates a distinctive rhythm that is often used in many different styles of music, including classical, folk, and pop.
6/8 time is written on the stave as follows:
What is 6/8 time?
While both 3/4 and 6/8 time signatures have six eighth-note beats in a measure, they differ in how those beats are grouped.
In a 3/4 time signature, the quarter note beats are grouped in threes, with the first beat being the strongest, and the second and third beats being weaker. This creates a rhythmic pattern of strong-weak-weak. This time signature is often used for waltzes and other dance music.
In contrast, in a 6/8 time signature, there are two beats subdivided into three each, giving the six eighth notes. They are counted “1-and-a, 2-and-a” with the first beat of the bar being strongest, the fourth beat being slightly weaker, but still accented, and the other beats being weakest. This time signature is often used for jigs, marches, and other types of music that have a lively and energetic feel.
3/4 time is written on the stave as follows:
How to play in 3/4 time
To play music in 3/4 time, you need to feel the rhythm of three beats per measure, with each beat equal to one quarter note. Here are some steps to follow:
- Start by counting the beats out loud: “1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3,” emphasizing the first beat of each measure.
- You can also tap your foot or sway your body to the rhythm to help internalize the pulse.
- As you play the music, keep the rhythm steady, counting or tapping along to help you maintain the proper timing.
- When playing a melody or chords, make sure to emphasize the first beat of each measure to keep the rhythmic feel of the music.
- If you’re playing with others, listen carefully to the other musicians and try to play in sync with them.
- As you become more comfortable with playing in 3/4 time, you can start experimenting with different rhythmic patterns and syncopations to create a more varied and interesting sound.
How to play in 6/8 time
To play music in 6/8 time, follow these steps:
- Understand the time signature: In 6/8 time, there are six beats per measure, and each beat is an eighth note in duration. The beats are grouped in sets of three, creating a strong-weak-weak pattern.
- Count the beats: Count the beats out loud or in your head as you play. You can count “1-and-a, 2-and-a” to fit the six beats within the measure. Emphasize the first beat of each group of three.
- Feel the pulse: Tap your foot or sway your body to feel the underlying pulse of the music. This will help you internalize the rhythmic pattern and stay in time.
- Play the music: When playing a melody or chords, emphasize the first beat of each group of three to maintain the characteristic feel of 6/8 time. This emphasizes the strong beats and gives the music its distinctive rhythm.
- Practice with a metronome: Use a metronome or a metronome app set to 6/8 time to practice playing in a steady and consistent tempo. Start at a slower tempo and gradually increase the speed as you become more comfortable.
- Listen to examples: Listen to music in 6/8 time to familiarize yourself with the feel and groove of this time signature. Pay attention to how the beats are accented and how the music flows within the meter.
What songs are in 3/4 time?
There are many examples of music in 3/4 time signature across various genres of music. Here are a few examples:
- “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II
- “Moon River” by Henry Mancini
- “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
- “Für Elise” by Ludwig van Beethoven
- “Amazing Grace” (traditional hymn)
- “Memory” from the musical “Cats” by Andrew Lloyd Webber
- “Greensleeves” (traditional English folk song)
- “Edelweiss” from the musical “The Sound of Music” by Rodgers and Hammerstein
- “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis Presley
- “The Merry Widow Waltz” by Franz Lehár
What songs are in 6/8 time?
- “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles
- “Give Me Everything” by Pitbull ft. Ne-Yo, Afrojack, and Nayer
- “The Rose of Tralee” (traditional Irish song)
- “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin
- “Drowsy Maggie” (traditional Irish instrumental)
- “Tamacun” by Rodrigo y Gabriela
- “I’m Not Afraid” by Eminem
- “All Blues” by Miles Davis
- “Jig” from “St. Paul’s Suite” by Gustav Holst