3/4 Time Signatures (Guitar Lesson)

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Matt Brown

3/4 Time Signatures

Although a bit less common than 4/4 time, 3/4 is quite popular across a variety of genres. In this lesson, you'll learn about 3/4 time and practice it with some exercises and songs.

Taught by Matt Brown in Reading Music and Rhythm seriesLength: 22:20Difficulty: 2.0 of 5
Chapter 1: (01:44) Lesson Overview In the previous lesson, you learned about 4/4 or "common time." In the current lesson, Matt introduces what is arguably the second most common time signature in Western music: 3/4. In the following scenes, Matt explains the key features of this signature. He also provides you with some exercises that will get you acquainted with playing rhythms in 3/4.
Chapter 2: (18:31) Intro to 3/4 Time & Exercises In lesson 3, you learned how each of the two numbers in a time signature functions. Matt simply applies these same ideas to 3/4 time. The top number indicates that there are three beats in each measure. Remember that a '4' in the bottom of a time signature indicates that a quarter note is counted as the beat. As a result, each measure in 3/4 contains three quarter notes or any combination of note values that add up to three quarter notes.

Triple Meters

3/4 is an example of a "triple meter." A triple meter is a time signature in which the basic unit of the pulse occurs in groups of three opposed to groups of two. 12/8 and 6/8 are two other common triple meters. 4/4 or common time is a duple meter.


A. Scale Choice

These exercises are to be practiced in the same format discussed in the previous rhythm lesson. Play each example for a full measure on each note in the scale before proceeding to the next note in the scale. In the last lesson, Matt demonstrated how to play rhythm exercises within the context of an "open" C major scale. However, feel free to practice these exercises with a variety of scales. This will make things a little more interesting, and will also maximize your practice time. Practice a different scale with these exercises each day if possible. This may require that you keep an organized practice schedule. Refer to all JamPlay lessons pertaining to proper practicing and practice schedules for more information.

B. Practice Tips

Print or write out all of the exercises listed in the "Supplemental Content" section. Scan through the exercises and note which rhythms look tricky to you. Then, write in the appropriate counting syllables beneath each difficult exercise. This way, it will be easier to count when you get to a measure whose rhythm is visually confusing. Also, remember to always play these exercises with a metronome. Don't practice them without one, because you will reinforce bad rhythm habits. Sixty beats per minute is a great starting tempo when you are learning any new piece of music. Gradually move the metronome up a notch at a time as you become more comfortable with each exercise. Finally, always count the rhythm in your head and get a feel for the time before you begin each exercise. NEVER play until you are ready!

Exercise 1

This exercise is comprised of three quarter notes. Count "1, 2, 3" for each measure.

Exercise 2

This exercise is comprised solely of eighth notes. Count "1+2+3+" for each measure.

Exercise 3

This exercise is comprised of two eighths, one quarter, then two eighths. Count "1+2 3+" for each measure.

Exercise 4

This exercise features quite a bit of syncopation. Syncopation, according to the Harvard Dictionary of Music, is a momentary contradiction of the prevailing meter or pulse.

This exercise is comprised of three eighths, one quarter, then one eighth. Count "1+2+(3)+." Do not play on the downbeat of three! Remember that a "( )" indicates that a beat is simply counted. No note is struck.

Exercise 5

This exercise is comprised of one eighth, one quarter, then three eighths. Count "1+(2)+3+."

Exercise 6

This exercise is comprised of a quarter rest then four eighth notes. Count "(1) 2+3+.”"Or count "(rest) 2+3+."

Exercise 7

The first note in this exercise has a dot written after it. A dot adds half of the rhythmic value to the indicated note. For example, a dotted quarter note receives the value of a quarter plus one eighth note. A dotted eighth note receives the value of an eighth note plus one sixteenth note. Count "1 (2)+3+" for each measure.

Exercise 8

This exercise is comprised of an eighth note, a dotted quarter, then two eighth notes. Count "1+(2) 3+" for each measure.

Exercise 9

This is the hardest exercise in the lesson due to the fact that every note except for the first occurs on an upbeat. This exercise is comprised of one eighth, two quarters, then one eighth note. Count "1+(2)+(3)+" for each measure. Spend extra time with difficult exercises. Don't spend as much practice time on things that you are already good at.

Exercise 10

This exercise features an eighth note rest. It is comprised of an eighth note rest, a quarter note, then three eighth notes. Count "(1)+(2)+3+" for each measure.
Chapter 3: (02:03) Wrap-up and Preview of Lesson 5 Here is a list of some common compositional forms that are typically written in 3/4 time:

Minuet: a graceful French dance in moderate 3/4 time often appearing as a section of extended dance suites.

Mazurka: a moderately fast Polish country dance

Polonaise: a stately Polish processional dance in 3/4 time.

Scherzo: literally means 'joke.' This term designates lively and usually lighthearted instrumental music. It is most commonly used to label the fast movements of a symphony or sonata. It is usually played in A A B A form, with the B section being called a Trio.

Waltz/Valse: a popular ballroom dance in 3/4 time dating from around 1800.

Final Thoughts

The next lessons will feature some simple melodies written in 3/4 time. These will melodies will improve your note reading and rhythm skills in this meter.

Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.

rockinrohlerrockinrohler replied

Great lesson your Awesome at playing the guitar!

Zatte9.9Zatte9.9 replied

great work, thx

arniesingarniesing replied

In Ex 8, why isn't Matt counting for demo purposes?

rydawg723rydawg723 replied

Hey Matt, just wanted to say thanks for providing valuable material and examples in this lesson set. Learning to play with sheet music always seemed like the thing to do from the beginning but all the terminology and meanings kind of scared me off. With your help and some other books that I have picked up im slowly starting to learn the language. Time signatures used to take me a while to understand, but I soon developed the ability to pace it out in my head (1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and) like you suggested and now the strumming just seems to happen on its own. Thanks again and looking forward to the rest of this series! -Ryan-

mattbrownmattbrown replied

You're welcome! Yeah, reading music does tend to scare people away. I think once you dive into it though, you'll realize that it isn't so hard. In addition to learning how to read from standard notation, I hope this series gives people the necessary information to play musically and with conviction. By the way, I check these comments pretty regularly, so if you ever have any questions, just let me know. :)

varomixvaromix replied

Great lesson Matt, I'm finally learning this stuff, small note, the final exercise is wrong in the lesson materials, you mention another rest that is not there, in the video at 16:36, and ex. 10 in the material says 12:10 hehe, it'll be great if you can correct that. Thanks

mattbrownmattbrown replied

Thanks so much for the heads up! Not sure what happened there...haha ;) I'm getting it fixed right now.

fretmanfretman replied

In exercise 3, I'm a bit perplexed about the counting. You indicate that the count is 1+2+(3)+. I always understood that for eighth notes, they are counted as a half-beat. So in the case of exercise 3, the count would be 1++2+The single eighth note is a half-beat with the quarter note receiving the whole beat, on the down beat. Can you help me to understand where I am going wrong?

mattbrownmattbrown replied

Well, if that's what I said in the lesson, that's wrong, and I'm sorry I confused you! For exercise 3, you can't count "1+2 3+". The "1+" accounts for the first two eighth notes. Then, the quarter hits on "2". The "3+" accounts for the last two eighth notes. You can also count "1+2+3+" through the whole measure to ensure that you don't rush the quarter note. Subdividing the rhythm can sometimes help your timing. Just make sure you don't sneak in an eighth note on the "+" of 2.

jhenriksenjhenriksen replied

Basic stuff, but some the supplemental material is missing making it difficult to follow while searching for the material that isn't there. Also, Matt you need to tell us which measure you're on instead of continually saying "and the next one." If you did not tell us the prior measure, It's difficult to immediately know what "the next one" is. Otherwise, good stuff.

mattbrownmattbrown replied

Thanks for the feedback!...All very helpful comments. I'll take another look at this one and see what I might have missed in terms of supplemental content. I'll also put in some time markers so you can easily tell which measure / exercise I'm referring too. Thanks again for keeping me honest! :)

diffurdiffur replied

Out of tune - that was a laugh... Matt, thank you very much for this set. It is really useful, though I'm just refreshing my knowledge. Looking forward to complicated melodies and rhythms.

kenmasmankenmasman replied

Am enjoying the reading music series. But I don't know how to follow the rhythm exercises in this lesson. I only have a total of 8 exercises, but you indicate 10, in the text. And the rhythm doesn't seem to match up. What am I missing?

wayne66wayne66 replied

the supplemental content only shows exercises 3 - 10. The first exercise is with all quarter notes and the second is with all eighth notes.

Reading Music and Rhythm

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Matt brings all of his years of education right to you with this fantastic series on how to read music. You will start with the very basics and work up to some very advanced concepts.

Intro to Reading MusicLesson 1

Intro to Reading Music

This introductory lesson will walk you through the basics of reading music and reading rhythm.

Length: 15:07 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Reading MusicLesson 2

Reading Music

Learn how to identify notes, the key signature, and the staff. Implement your reading skills by playing a few simple tunes.

Length: 43:32 Difficulty: 1.5 FREE
Rhythm and Time SignaturesLesson 3

Rhythm and Time Signatures

Learn the basics of notation and time signatures. Practice these concepts with a few timing exercises.

Length: 22:01 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
3/4 Time SignaturesLesson 4

3/4 Time Signatures

Now that you've learned a bit about 4/4 time, it's on to 3/4 time.

Length: 22:20 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Reading Music PracticeLesson 5

Reading Music Practice

Now that you know the basics of reading music, it's time to put that knowledge to work with some exercises.

Length: 25:43 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
On Top of Old SmokeyLesson 6

On Top of Old Smokey

Get some more practice reading music and rhythms during your rock fest rendition of "On Top of Old Smokey".

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He's Got the Whole WorldLesson 7

He's Got the Whole World

Matt Brown reviews the G major scale and teaches "He's Got the Whole World".

Length: 13:18 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Amazing GraceLesson 8

Amazing Grace

Matt Brown explains how to read music in the key of F major. He uses the song "Amazing Grace" as an example.

Length: 15:22 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Shoo, FlyLesson 9

Shoo, Fly

Matt Brown teaches the song "Shoo, Fly" as another excellent rhythm and reading example. This song is in the key of G.

Length: 14:46 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Scales and Key SignaturesLesson 10

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Matt Brown returns with the 10th installment in his Reading and Rhythm series. In this lesson, Matt discusses key signatures.

Length: 14:09 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Minor Key and Aura LeeLesson 11

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In this lesson Matt Brown covers the first minor key song in this series, "Aura Lee".

Length: 12:11 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Scarborough FairLesson 12

Scarborough Fair

In this lesson, Matt introduces the A Dorian mode. He applies it to the song "Scarborough Fair".

Length: 16:29 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Second PositionLesson 13

Second Position

In lesson 13, Matt Brown discusses and demonstrates second position.

Length: 29:52 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
RhythmLesson 14


Lesson 14 is all about rhythm. Matt Brown discusses its importance and provides several exercises.

Length: 20:17 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
On Top of Old Smokey ReviewLesson 15

On Top of Old Smokey Review

Matt Brown reviews "On Top of Old Smokey". This time around, the melody is played in second position.

Length: 7:56 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Reviewing Angels We Have Heard On High Lesson 16

Reviewing Angels We Have Heard On High

For lesson 14, Matt Brown reviews "Angels We Have Heard On High". The melody is now played in second position.

Length: 12:02 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Shoo, Fly ReviewLesson 17

Shoo, Fly Review

Matt Brown reviews the song "Shoo, Fly" in second position.

Length: 8:56 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Rhythm StrummingLesson 18

Rhythm Strumming

This lesson covers right hand rhythm technique. Matt introduces syncopated strumming patterns.

Length: 25:38 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Down by the RiversideLesson 19

Down by the Riverside

Matt teaches the melody to "Down by the Riverside". This tune is used as preparation for learning accompaniment techniques.

Length: 15:02 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
AccompanimentLesson 20


Matt uses the song "Down by the Riverside" to teach accompaniment techniques for rhythm backing.

Length: 12:31 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Fur Elise Pt. 1Lesson 21

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Matt teaches the classic tune "Fur Elise" in a two part series. For Part 1, Matt demonstrates the melody section.

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Fur Elise Pt. 2Lesson 22

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The Entertainer Pt. 1Lesson 23

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Lesson 23 starts a 2 part series on the classic tune "The Entertainer".

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The Entertainer Pt. 2Lesson 24

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Lesson 24 completes the two part series on "The Entertainer". You will learn the accompaniment in this lesson.

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Sea to Sea Pt. 1Lesson 25

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Sea to Sea Pt. 2Lesson 26

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Lesson 26 completes Matt's 2 part series on "Sea to Sea".

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Stars and Stripes Forever Pt. 1Lesson 27

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Length: 21:31 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Stars and Stripes Forever Pt. 2Lesson 28

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Length: 7:39 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
D Major in First and Second PositionLesson 29

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Danny Boy Pt. 1Lesson 30

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Danny Boy Pt. 2Lesson 31

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Matt Brown teaches the accompaniment to the "Danny Boy" melody.

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Matt teaches the Christmas classic "Silent Night."

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Silent Night Pt. 2Lesson 33

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Matt teaches the accompaniment to the "Silent Night" melody.

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Funiculi Funicula Pt. 1Lesson 34

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Funiculi Funicula Pt. 2Lesson 35

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Matt Brown teaches the accompaniment to "Funiculi Funicula".

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Strumming TripletsLesson 36

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In lesson 36, Matt provides exercises to help you strum triplet patterns.

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Strumming Sixteenth Note RhythmsLesson 37

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Song of the Volga Boatmen Pt. 2Lesson 39

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Dance of the Ukraine Pt. 2Lesson 41

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Morning Pt. 1Lesson 43

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Bach's Minuet Pt. 2Lesson 46

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Little Prelude in C Pt. 1Lesson 47

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Little Prelude in C Pt. 2Lesson 48

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Third PositionLesson 51

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Length: 7:16 Difficulty: 0.0 Members Only
Third Position PracticeLesson 52

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Length: 15:11 Difficulty: 0.0 Members Only
Matt Brown

About Matt Brown View Full Biography Matt Brown began playing the guitar at the age of 11. "It was a rule in my family to learn and play an instrument for at least two years. I had been introduced to a lot of great music at the time by friends and their older siblings. I was really into bands like Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and Smashing Pumpkins, so the decision to pick up the guitar came pretty easily."

Matt's musical training has always followed a very structured path. He began studying the guitar with Dayton, Ohio guitar great Danny Voris. I began learning scales, chords, and basic songs like any other guitarist. After breaking his left wrist after playing for only a year, Matt began to study music theory in great detail. I wanted to keep going with my lessons, but I obviously couldn't play at all. Danny basically gave me the equivalent of a freshman year music theory course in the span of two months. These months proved to have a huge impact on Brown's approach to the instrument.

Brown continued his music education at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. He completed a degree in Classical Guitar Performance in 2002. While at Capital, he also studied jazz guitar and recording techniques in great detail. "I've never had any desire to perform jazz music. Its lack of relevance to modern culture has always turned me off. However, nothing will improve your chops more than studying this music."

Matt Brown currently resides in Dayton, Ohio. He teaches lessons locally as well as at Capital University's Community Music School. Matt's recent projects include writing and recording with his new, as of yet nameless band as well as the formation of a cover band called The Dirty Cunnies.

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