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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 on September 9th, 2016

Great lesson your Awesome at playing the guitar!

Zatte9.9Zatte9.9 replied on February 3rd, 2015

great work, thx

arniesingarniesing replied on December 26th, 2014

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

rydawg723rydawg723 replied on February 10th, 2013

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 on February 11th, 2013

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 on December 30th, 2012

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 on January 3rd, 2013

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

fretmanfretman replied on November 7th, 2012

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 on November 8th, 2012

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 on December 3rd, 2011

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 on December 6th, 2011

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 on December 8th, 2009

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 on June 2nd, 2009

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 on July 14th, 2009

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.

Lesson 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
Lesson 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
Lesson 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
Lesson 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
Lesson 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
Lesson 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".

Length: 15:54 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 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
Lesson 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
Lesson 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
Lesson 10

Scales and Key Signatures

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
Lesson 11

Minor Key and Aura Lee

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

Length: 12:11 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 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
Lesson 13

Second Position

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

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


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

Length: 20:17 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 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
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
Lesson 17

Shoo, Fly Review

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

Length: 8:56 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 18

Rhythm Strumming

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

Length: 25:38 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 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
Lesson 20


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

Length: 12:31 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 21

Fur Elise Pt. 1

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

Length: 24:03 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 22

Fur Elise Pt. 2

In lesson 22, Matt teaches the accompaniment sections to Beethoven's "Fur Elise".

Length: 13:12 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 23

The Entertainer Pt. 1

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

Length: 16:30 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 24

The Entertainer Pt. 2

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

Length: 14:06 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 25

Sea to Sea Pt. 1

Matt starts another 2 part lesson, this time on the tune "Sea to Sea" by William G. Leavitt.

Length: 20:36 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 26

Sea to Sea Pt. 2

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

Length: 10:17 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 27

Stars and Stripes Forever Pt. 1

Matt introduces the B flat major scale and teaches the song "Stars and Stripes Forever".

Length: 21:31 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 28

Stars and Stripes Forever Pt. 2

Matt completes his two part series on "Stars and Stripes Forever" by teaching the accompaniment.

Length: 7:39 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 29

D Major in First and Second Position

Matt Brown teaches the D Major scale in both first and second positions.

Length: 17:55 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 30

Danny Boy Pt. 1

Matt Brown demonstrates "Danny Boy" in both first and second positions.

Length: 16:28 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 31

Danny Boy Pt. 2

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

Length: 12:03 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 32

Silent Night Pt. 1

Matt teaches the Christmas classic "Silent Night."

Length: 18:17 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 33

Silent Night Pt. 2

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

Length: 4:55 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 34

Funiculi Funicula Pt. 1

Matt Brown teaches "Funiculi Funicula" as an exercise in reading and playing in 6/8 time.

Length: 14:39 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 35

Funiculi Funicula Pt. 2

Matt Brown teaches the accompaniment to "Funiculi Funicula".

Length: 16:40 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 36

Strumming Triplets

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

Length: 23:30 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 37

Strumming Sixteenth Note Rhythms

In lesson 37, Matt Brown demonstrates how to strum sixteenth note rhythms.

Length: 17:28 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 38

Song of the Volga Boatmen

Matt Brown demonstrates the melody and tips for playing the Russian folk tune "Song of the Volga Boatmen".

Length: 11:33 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 39

Song of the Volga Boatmen Pt. 2

In lesson 39, Matt teaches the accompaniment to "Song of the Volga Boatmen".

Length: 8:35 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 40

Dance of the Ukraine

Matt Brown teaches and demonstrates "Dance of the Ukraine."

Length: 15:37 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 41

Dance of the Ukraine Pt. 2

Matt demonstrates the accompaniment to the "Dance of the Ukraine" melody.

Length: 13:36 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 42

Etude by Ferdinando Carulli

Matt Brown teaches an etude for classical guitar by Ferdinando Carulli.

Length: 21:20 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 43

Morning Pt. 1

Matt Brown teaches the melody section to "Morning" by Edvard Grieg.

Length: 18:44 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 44

Morning Pt. 2

Matt teaches the accompaniment for Edvard Grieg's "Morning."

Length: 8:08 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 45

Bach's Minuet Pt. 1

Matt Brown teaches Bach's classic Minuet.

Length: 14:55 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 46

Bach's Minuet Pt. 2

In lesson 46, Matt Brown covers the accompaniment section to Bach's Minuet.

Length: 5:53 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 47

Little Prelude in C Pt. 1

Matt Brown teaches Bach's "Little Prelude in C."

Length: 16:23 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 48

Little Prelude in C Pt. 2

Matt Brown teaches the accompaniment to "Little Prelude in C" by Bach.

Length: 7:49 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 49

Clementi's Sonatina

Matt Brown teaches the 2nd guitar part to Muzio Clementi's famous "Sonatina."

Length: 23:46 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 50

Bach's Invention #1

Matt Brown teaches Invention #1 composed by J.S. Bach.

Length: 21:42 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 51

Third Position

Matt takes a look at playing in third position. This lesson will set up future reading lessons that require the third position.

Length: 7:16 Difficulty: 0.0 Members Only
Lesson 52

Third Position Practice

Matt Brown has you working through Jean Philippe Rameau's Minuet for third position playing in lesson 52. He provides a play along and accompaniment to help your sight reading and playing.

Length: 15:11 Difficulty: 0.0 Members Only

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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