Popular Songs To Use The ¾ Time Signature – Guitar Tabs Included

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Popular Songs To Use The 3/4 Time Signature – Guitar Tabs Included

¾ time is probably the most common time signature outside of your simple 4/4 time signature.

While we will explain this signature in theoretical terms, without music theory knowledge it can often be easiest to understand the time signature with specific song examples.

The ¾ signature can be quite important for beginner guitarists to learn, as this can help lots of various parts of their playing such as strumming, picking, and keeping rhythm.

¾ time can be a lot more simple than many think, and rather than getting bogged down in the theory we recommend listening to the songs and their rhythm, and even trying certain songs on guitar yourself to really understand why 3/4 is used and why it is different to 4/4.

Keep reading this article to learn more about time signatures, how they different from one another, and how to become comfortable with this time signature when playing guitar.

What Is ¾ Time?

¾ time is like 4/4 time but is more focused on threes.

One of the most simple ways to explain this is that the ¾ time signature is most commonly referred to as ‘the Waltz’ If you know anything about the Waltz,  mainly its rhythm, then ¾ time can seem a lot more simple.

Without getting too theory heavy, counting the beats out is the easiest way to understand the time signature. 4/4 time, the most common time signature, is very simple.

You just count 1..2..3..4.. And usually there is emphasis on  the first and third, or second and fourth, beats, also known as strong beats. Just think of Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple, this is a classically 4/4 song, where the strong beats should be clear.

Comparatively, ¾ time is the same counting rhythm as you may have been taught with the waltz. 1..2..3 1..2..3..

Here the emphasis and strong note is focussed on the first note instead. This gives a distinctive waltzing theme that pushes the listener forward, rather than a plodding 4/4 time signature.

Let’s get into some songs where this time signature may seem more obvious

America By Simon & Garfunkel

 

America by Simon and Garfunkel is an amazing epic ballad written in their classic surrealistic style, but is driven forward by this 3/4 waltzing rhythm that can be clear in the guitar strumming patterns.
 
It drives the song forward with the percussion being fairly sparse in itself. THe driving ¾ rhythm allows certain layering of instruments to occur so that the song can either build up to its epic chorus or disintegrate back into the sparse verses.
 
Listen to it here.

Hallelujah By Leonard Cohen

 

While not necessarily a straight up guitar classic, the bassline in the song and drums, as well as the ushering guitar underneath, does demonstrate ¾ very well.
 
The song has a natural waltzing rhythm that builds and falls and if play the chords alongside it you can get a good feel for the waltzing rhythm and 3.4 time signature 
 
The way the drums use the strong beat on the 1 that we explained before is a pretty clear example of ¾ rhythm. Kick..2..3.. Hard Snare..2…3.. Kick..2..3.. Soft Snare..2..3..
 
Listen to the song here.

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry By Hank Williams

 

The classic country and western genre is one which commonly uses the waltzing ¾ rhythm in their songs and utilizes how this rhythm naturally lends itself to a song’s structure.
 
What’s interesting in this example is that Hank’s muted strums on the guitar neatly mark out the ¾ time signature, thanks, again, to quite sparse percussion, Hank’s muted strokes being the percussion itself.
 
Hank basically only strums on the strong beat, the first, palm muting the second and third strokes. His vocals also quite closely follow the same ¾ rhythm which can help us recognize the time signature more clearly.
 
Listen to it here.

Piano Man By Billy Joel

 
This is another ¾ classic where the driving waltzing rhythm lends itself to the song’s winding and emotional tone, and is also a song that many people will recognize.
 
Albeit, the piano is easiest to recognize the ¾ rhythm in, while also being present in everything else. The guitar follows a similar rhythm but is ultimately drowned out by the emotional piano.
 
The piano has a bouncing rhythm where the strong beat, the first, is the most pronounced and the following two beats are played with less velocity, this naturally creates that driving waltz rhythm associated with the ¾ time signature.
 
Listen to it here.

Take It To The Limit By Eagles

 

Veering more into the rock genres, we can see Eagles taking on the classic waltz and ¾ time signature in their hit motown/classic rock hit ‘Take It To The Limit’.
 
Here we can simply listen to the rhythm of the ride cymbal as the drummer hits it perfectly in ¾ time. For a harder exercise figure out where the vocals fall within this ¾ rhythm, specifically with the chorus.
 
This teaches us an important lesson about how timing can often be sought out in the drummer’s interaction with his cymbals/hi-hat. You can always find the rhythm of any song in the hi hat beat, or in this case the ride.
 
Listen to it here.

The Times They Are A-Changin’ By Bob Dylan

 

This classic from Bob Dylan is a song that isn’t so overtly ¾, but remains in this time. It certainly doesn’t follow the classic structure that certain ¾ songs do, but when you count along it is certainly in ¾.
 
Dylan seems to use the time signature to influence the flow of his lyricism more than anything else.
 
Yet, the guitar Dylan plays is in that classic Western/Country style where the bass note is struck on the strong beat, the first, while the rest of the chord is strummed on the 2nd and 3rd beats respectively.
 
Listen to the song here.

Nothing Else Matters By Metallica

 

What starts as a classical guitar song and then morphs into the classic heavy Metallica riffs, is a well known song but is in fact in ¾ for the most part.
 
The initial guitar part at the beginning by Kirk Hammet is a unique and beautiful piece of guitar playing that is certainly hard to play but is a great way to get used to the ¾ time.
 
Equally, the drums in the song’s beginning is another interesting take on the ¾ time. Using the double kick on 3 and the recurring 1 make for something driving, classic of the 3.4 time, but is a percussive take on the time signature we don’t often see.
 
The ¾ beat is kept by the acoustic guitar riff that undulates up and down throughout the track as well.
 
The amazing last guitar solo by Hammet interestingly follows this ¾ beat which is a lot harder than within 4/4 , showing Hammett’s prowess.
 
Listen to the song here.

Are You Lonesome Tonight By Elvis Presley

 

Another classic from the South here, but a song that mainly relies on the guitar’s percussive and melodic rhythm to drive the song in ¾.
 
The classic song is notably without drums for the most part, simply the guitar and acapella humming on the top. This provides a particularly vast and winding rhythm that does build as well.
 
This involves that classic strumming pattern, typical of this genre and period, where the bass note is hit on the first note, and the higher notes hit on the 2nd and 3rd the same.
 
It’s the emptiness of the guitar and the vocals alone that create this lonely and empty feeling that is surmised in the lyrics too, a true ballad.
 
Listen to it here.

Between The Bars By Elliot Smith

 

This song takes the ¾ rhythm somewhere a little darker in this contemporary song by Elliot Smith, which some readers may recognize from the film ‘Good Will Hunting’.
 
Elliot Smithoften uses the ¾ rhythm in his songs, with two songs on his last album being literally named ‘Waltz #1’ and ‘Waltz #2’, also in ¾ time. Part of why the 3.4 is used so often by Smith is similar to Elvis in many ways.
 
The waltzing rhythm has a percussive element as the bass note is played on the first strong note of the ¾ rhythm, although this is used in a similar way this same rhythm is used by Smith but not in Country or Western style as it is commonly.
 
The 3/4 is perhaps ideal for these solo guitarists who don’t want anything muddying their song beyond mainly just their voice and the guitar.
 
Just like Elvis in the previous example, the ¾ rhythm helps the song remain clean, lonely, and singular in its instrumentation, with only the guitar and vocals present, but the strong bass note on the first beat creates a percussive element that drives the song with the waltz as rhythm.
 
Listen to it here.

Lonely Day By System Of A Down

 

Those from the noughties may remember this untypically slow and brooding song from the usually heavy rockers System of a Down.
 
This is an interesting example when you listen to the drums and could argue that the song is really in 6/8, which is mathematics at the same time signature.
 
The drums and guitar use this 6/8 approach where they split the quarter notes into 6 rather than 3 which is mathematically possible, this allows for faster pace while still adhering to the time signature.
 
This allows for the quite fast and intricate guitar solo in the song which indeed relies on more than 3 notes per beat.
 
Listen to it here

Only Love Can Break Your Heart By Neil Young

 

Many love this romantic song that is not unsurprisingly a lonely song that is in ¾. Here the guitar is, once again, the only instrument in the song proving our theory that solo guitar singer songwriters love the ¾ for its percussive elements.
 
In this song, rather than hitting it hard on the first note as is often common with ¾ guitar playing, Neil actually, at least in the chorus, strums the full chords on each the first,second and third notes respectively.
 
When he sings ‘But only’ of the chorus you can hear all three strums ring out before Young enters the classic waltzing guitar strumming that is typical of this time signature.
 
Listen to it here.

Golden Brown By The Stranglers

 

This is a classic song that uses ¾ or probably 6/8 more accurately, to help make a song feel more like a ballad. Certainly in the original a harpsichord is playing the main riff, but this can be played on guitar too and often is.
 
Interestingly, within one phrase, the song is actually ¾ for three bars then finally one bar of 4/4, which helps the sort of varying nature of the song affect the structure as well.
 
Like we previously mentioned, using 6 beats in a meter rather than 3 creates more variability and more areas where the guitar or piano players can create more elaborate riffs and melodies.
 
If we were going to be complex, the song is actually in alternating bars of 6/8 and 7/8 , but this is basically the same as three bars of 3/3 and one bar of 4/4.
 
Listen to it here.

Everybody Hurts By R.E.M.

 

This heart wrenching song from R.E.M.’S best selling album in 1992 is another song that utilizes the waltzing ¾ time signature once more.
 
Once again it shows how using the ¾ time signature can really drive a song forward and with a single acoustic guitar can help the song have more rhythm and bounce without drums.
 
What is interesting about the song is how there is both guitar strumming going on while a solo electric guitar picks the chords in 3/4 time on top of the strummed chords. This simply makes this driving and percussive effect more apparent.
 
Listen to it here.

Iris By Goo Goo Dolls

 

Everyone surely knows this karaoke classic that has haunted the halls of bars across the country, and world. It is a more modern example of his classic ¾ rhythm.
 
The addition of drums adds another element that makes the romantic song not only driving but epic and creates space for the guitar to do some different things, or in this case an extra layer of violin and string instruments that help the song build in this epic way it does.
 
The song is super popular for bridal dances mainly due to how it is in the classic waltz rhythm that makes it easy to have a classical dance to while the song itself remains very modern.
 
Listen to it here

Breakaway By Kelly Clarkson

 

As you can see from some of the songs listed, the waltzing rhythm was quite popular in the noughties and was re-engineered by many producers and bands at the time. This is partly due to how popular these ballad type songs were at the time.
 
Often by adding drums and other instruments along with the guitar, they can build instrumentation and make the song more epic than lonely, both emotions are closely linked with this time signature.
 
In this song’s chorus we can see Kelly using some interesting vocal dubbing over at the end of the chorus that also uses this ¾ timing in a unique way within the song’s structure. 
 
Listen to the song here.

Judith By A Perfect Circle

 

The way ¾, and 6/8 respectively, operates in this song shows how it can be used in the metal/rock genres.
 
The ¾ time in this song isn’t particularly for the classic reasons of generating a lonely or epic sound, perhaps a little epic, but shows how the noughties influenced genres of nu-metal can flip these emotions into something else.
 
Here, the time signature is mainly held in the drums which closely follow a waltzing drum pattern
 
The song is quite oscillating and looping but still does remain quite epic in proportions. Arguably, this is simply another love song but in a way that adheres to their genre.
 
A Perfect Circle uses the time signature to show an angry, brooding, epic version of love that is quite different to how the time signature is usually used.
 
Listen to the song here.

Open Arms By Journey

 

In this untypically relaxed and melodic song by Journey we see them exhibit their softer side in this ¾ waltzing tune.
 
One thing that we love about this song is how the electric guitar layers over the piano later on, in what is arguably a solo, where the drums come in after.
 
Again, in this song the ¾ time signature really serves the ballad format of the song well and creates this building feeling where you can layer instrumentation on top. The rocky ballad really benefits from this driving time signature in this song.
 
Listen to the song here

Army Dreamers By Kate Bush

 

Here we can see another unique use of ¾ time signature in this song. The strange flow of lyricism, the harpsichord element, quite like The Strangeler’s Golden Brown helps the song seem like a ballad in a much more traditional sense.
 
Both songs, but specifically Army Dreamers, exhibit this strange mix of the harpsichord, a very old instrument, and contemporary issues.
 
The song is again actually in 6/8 but this simply widens the range of beats the harpsichord player can be creative within. The sign is particularly stylized and is purposeful in its use of ¾ to make it sound much older and antiquated.
 
Listen to the song here.

Bed Of Roses By Jon Bon Jovi

 

This is your classic 80s love ballad here, which uses the ¾ beat to easily stylize the song musically into something really romantic, with the waltzing element being a framework for bridal and romance songs, but here is used to demonstrate a heartbreak.
 
In classic eighties fashion, the way that the whining guitar sits on the top of the piano helps stylize the song into a rock song, and when the drums join in and the lyrics build up the song becomes a romantic but epic song of love and desire that is recognisable in its driving and building ¾ time signature.
 
You can listen to the song here.

Down In The Valley By Johnny Cash

 

Like Elvis and Dylan before this cover by Cash, the ¾ time signature here is used by a single and solo guitar singer songwriter to help create that driving and percussive feel to a song that is very sparse and empty thanks to only have one guitar and Johnny’s vocals to create this epic ballad about Birmingham Jail, a cause close to Johnny’s heart.
 
Cash plays in his typical way that, like his antecedents, uses the bass note of the chord for the strong beat, the first beat, in order to drive the song forward using the ¾ time signature to do so, without sounding like a waltz too much.
 
Listen to the song here

Holiday By Weezer

 

This is an interesting take on the ¾ time signature that uses a similar outlook to previous mentioned songs.
 
At the beginning of the song we can only hear the distorted guitar which like previously mentioned songs from solo guitar songwriters have found that with a solo guitar the ¾ time signature is ideal as it can be driving and percussive on its one.
 
Weezer cleverly uses the driving notion of the ¾ time rhythm along with the distortion of the guitar to create something bold and driving that makes the song so recognizable and typically Weezer.
 
You can listen to it here.

Innocent When You Dream By Tom Waits

 

This song is a very obvious satire of the ballroom waltz by the ever satirical Tom Waits.
 
The accordion and strangely damp instruments, beyond the purposely sharp piano, join together to create a waltz that sounds a bit like a broken down magic roundabout.
 
In this way, rather than driving and epic, this makes the ¾ time signature feel quite maddening and insanity inducing, which is clearly Tom’s goal.
 
The song is typically Tom Waits, and features his classic grueling and deep voice that is jokingly brash in the song. The satire is perhaps clear in the song’s subtitle (barroom) which is a clear joke against the ‘ballroom’ title some songs in ¾ get.
 
Listen to it here.

Where Did You Sleep Last Night By Nirvana

 

The song, originally sang by Leadbelly, is a blues classic and once again demonstrates the utility of the ⅗ time signature to solo guitar players.
 
Demonstrated by Cobain in this circumstance we can see how the guitar playing ¾ time can really drive the song and allow for layers of instrumentation to enter the song and add melody and depth. 
 
While Cobain changes the strumming patterns into something more regular, the original Leadbelly original is much more typical of the ¾ time signature, where the bass note is hit and followed by two strokes of the full chord.
 
Hear it here.

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds By The Beatles

 

Arguably, not all this song is in ¾, part of its surrealistic appeal is how the song’s time signature changes. But in the verses of this hit, The Beatles are playing in classic waltzing ¾ style.
 
This provides the verses almost a ticking jazz vibe that adds to its general weirdness and surreality. 
 
The dancing rhythm adds to this hippie vibe, but is also both oscillating and looping in an interesting way, like A Perfect Circle’s ‘Judith’ that is both psychedelic but also classical in the waltz’s classic rhythms.
 
Hear the song here.

Back Street Girl By The Rolling Stones

 

This actually quite recent song from the Stones is one of their few songs that uses a different time signature. This song, like others we mentioned, uses the ¾ rhythm for this driving solo acoustic guitar method.
 
The waltzing rhythm, which could be called 6/8 in this circumstance, allows a lot of room for the guitar to riff and create melodies. 
 
Again, the solo guitar ¾ strumming patterns help create driving and building structure on top of which other instruments can layer on top of really well.
 
This song uses lots of dreamy synths and accordions, and other pastoral instruments that give it an entertaining English dreaminess that is typical of the Stones.
 
Hear it here.

Manic Depression By Jimi Hendrix

 

This is a pretty interesting use of ¾ time from Hendrix himself. There’s not really any waltz in this tune unless you look really hard for it.
 
Yet, the song is definitely in ¾ time signature. The drums remain pretty strange, and seem to be in 6/8 themselves, the outcome is chaotic which seems intended.
 
Much like how it is used in other mentioned songs, such as ‘Judith’ or with Tom Waits’ satirical take on the waltz, this ¾ time can be used to make the song seem maddening and lost in the cyclical, looping, nature of ¾ time.
 
In addition with the drum at 6/8 time the song sounds manic as its title suggests, a clever compositional move by Hendrix that works really well here. 
 
Hear it here.

Mull Of Kintyre By Wings

 

Here McCartney of The Beatles uses ¾ time to be a call back to times of old, as the title of the track does also. Rather than being a romantic or maddening song, the ¾ time references an older tradition of music from the UK.
 
Again, the ¾ time signature serves a percussive and riving element here as the song starts without any other instrument than McCartney’s voice and his guitar, well that’s until the bagpipes come in.
 
Yet, ¾ time here just helps drive the song where it is only guitar as we discussed.
 
Hear the tune here.

Fallin’ By Alicia Keys

 

This song from Alicia Keys is in ¾, another one that is arguably in 6/8 due to the melody and riffs, but is perhaps not a typical use of ¾.
 
The song is not like the others necessarily, it has a decent amount of instrumentation, is not necessarily a romantic bridal song, nor is referencing some traditional genre.
 
Rather, the song is about empowerment and has a sort of badass vibe, Keys even blends the song’s feeling with some gospel influence which isn’t common of ¾ time.
 
It seems that the function of the ¾ time signature is to drive the song forward as Keys’ lyrics do, to show an empowerment of sorts, a looping rhythm that is hard to stop, while still having the ability to use ¾ to reference that romance the time signature is related with.
 
Hear the song here.

I Got You Babe By Sonny And Cher

 

This 60s classic is in your typical ¾ bridal waltz and is a fairly typical romantic song that uses ¾ time to help create this dreamy, romantic feeling in the song.
 
The song has a lot of various instrumentation that layers on top of the guitar and has that classic 60s feeling, but is a typically romantic song that uses ¾ to create a driving feeling for the romance.
 
It’s been used in a number of films and television shows, as well as covered by may for being a typical romance song.
 
Hear the tune here.

Final Thoughts

As you can see ¾ time is really interesting in how it is used in a compositional sense. Traditionally ¾ time is your classic waltz, a common bridal dance, and has been used by many artists to evoke love and romance.

Equally many traditional songs from medieval times and beyond did use ¾ time, so equally it can help a song seem more traditional and reference these periods where necessary. The ¾ time signature can be used in other interesting ways as well.

When solo guitarists and singers use ¾ time, such as Elvis or Dylan, it can work well as when played on a guitar it can have a driving and percussive function when only one instrument is at play, while also allowing more complex melodies to be layered on top. 

Equally, some chose to use ¾ to create a sort of maddening loop that can be of particular interest in modern contemporary uses of this time signature. Try learning these songs and seeing what ¾ time may mean for you.

Frequently Asked Question

What Is The Difference Between ¾ And 6/8?

¾ and 6/8 time signatures are both quite different and also the same.

Mathematically, which a lot of music theory relies on, both ¾ and 6/8 are exactly the same, which they are.

If you have a pie and cut it into quarters, it’s exactly the same as a pie cut into eighths, just separated differently, this is exactly what is happening with ¾ and 6/8.

In music terms, the main difference between these two very different ways of measuring the time of song, is both the number of beats per bar, as well as the value or strength of each beat.

Put simply, a song that is 70 bpm, with a ¾ time signature will have three quarter note beats. This is how we get the 1.. 2.. 3.. 1.. 2.. 3… feeling from the waltz where the first beat is the strongest.

Imagine you doubled the bpm of the song to 140 bpm, and then doubled the notes per bar, you could fit 6 beats in quite quickly. 1,2,3,4,5,6. 1,2,3,4,5,6. In terms of music notation this would be listed by two dotted quarter note beats per bar.

By making a song 6/8 instead of ¾ we are essentially increasing the amount of beats in one bar, this simply means more intricate or fast melodies can be created rather than relying on the triplets of a waltzing beat.

All but the last bar of Golden Brown is an example of 6/8 time, much more intricate than your generic waltz but still basically the same.

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