Normally we spend the first good portion of our guitar journey in 4/4. It’s nice, simple, and easy to wrap your head around while you’re still just trying to get your hands to work properly.
It’s the ideal learning time signature. But sooner or later that itch will come to start exploring and experimenting with new things, and different time signatures are a great way to expand your musical horizons and help spice things up a bit.
3/4 time is one of the best time signatures to dip your toe and start playing around with because it’s also pretty easy to wrap your head around and keep track of as you play.
For that reason, we’ve prepared a list of 30 incredible songs that you can learn today that are in a 3/4 time signature, and we’ve even included both video lessons and tablature to help you along the way!
- When The Party’s Over by Billie Eilish
- Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson
- Everybody Hurts by R.E.M
- Fallin’ by Alicia Keys
- Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
- I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry by Hank Williams
- Idontwannabeyouanymore by Billie Eilish
- Iris by Goo Goo Dolls
- Judith by A Perfect Circle
- Lonely Day by System of a Down
- Open Arms by Journey
- Piano Man by Billy Joel
- Amazing Grace by John Newton
- America by Simon & Garfunkel
- Are You Lonesome Tonight by Elvis Presley
- Army Dreamers by Kate Bush
- Bed of Roses by Bon Jovi
- Blackout by Muse
- Bojangles by Jerry Jeff Walker
- Down in the Valley by Johnny Cash
- Happy Birthday by Misc Traditional
- Holiday by Weezer
- I Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher
- Innocent When You Dream by Tom Waits
- Manic Depression by Jimi Hendrix
- Mull Of Kintyre by Wings
- My Back Pages by Bob Dylan
- Nothing Else Matters by Metallica
- Take It To The Limit by The Eagles
- My Favorite Things by Julie Andrews
When The Party’s Over by Billie Eilish
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With an official music video that’s charging forth to a billion views, this song is the perfect example of how a popular, mainstream track can make use of 3/4 timing to great effect. The track itself is from her album ‘When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?’ and was released as the second promotional single from it. The song is actually about her brother who had ended a relationship early and had mixed feelings of both sadness that it was over, but also safety in that he hadn’t committed to the relationship fully yet.
Obviously, it’s a piano-driven song, but the chords can easily be taken over and placed on the guitar where we’ll be playing the progression F, Am, C, Dm, G, and F sharp Diminished. Each chord gets its own bar of 3 for each chord.
Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson
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So interestingly this was a song that was originally written for Avril Lavigne’s first studio album, of which Avril herself was a contributing songwriter. But after someone (probably the label) deemed it unsuitable for the kind of image she was presenting on her debut the song was then passed onto Kelly Clarkson. Not to be performed as a personal single, instead, it was included as part of the soundtrack to the popular movie ‘The Princess Diaries 2’.
This is a really nice and easy song to play where the 3/4 timing is easy to follow along to, just listen to the kick and the snare which coming on the 1 of each bar and you’ll have no trouble keeping in time. In terms of the left hand, the chord progression is Am, G, C, F, and D is used.
Everybody Hurts by R.E.M
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This is a song you’ve no doubt heard already, a classic track from R.E.M’s eighth album ‘Automatic for the People’. It ended up charting reasonably well, being able to climb to the number 29 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100. The band themselves have said this song was written purposely to be as direct as possible to their younger audience, as if they hide the lyrical themes within too much ambiguity it ends up losing its impact.
This song opens by just jumping between the D and G chords, and it’s one of those G’s where you’ll need both your pinky and ring finger held down. But instead of strumming it, these will be arpeggiated which means played 1 note at a time. They are simple enough to play and basically just ascend 3 notes, then descend 3 notes giving us a total of 6 eighth notes, which makes our 1 bar of 3/4. Each chord gets 2 bars each.
Fallin’ by Alicia Keys
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Alicia Keys was one of those lucky artists who got to experience massive commercial success right out of the gate with her debut single Fallin’, which is from her debut album ‘Songs in A Minor’. What’s more impressive is that it was both written and produced by Alicia herself and went on to win not just 1, but three Grammys which included Song of the Year, best RnB song, and best female RnB vocal performance. An absolutely monumental achievement for someone so young.
To play this song you’ll just need two chords which are the D minor and Am7 shapes, but you’ll need a capo on the second fret in order to get them in key with the song. Once again to keep track of that 3/4 timing you can listen to the interaction between the kick and snare here and you’ll soon be able to catch that 1 count and sync your strumming pattern to that.
Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
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Many people’s first exposure to this song would have been through the hit 2001 movie Shrek. Since that movie contributed so hugely to the success of this song it’s since been covered by some very notable artists including Jeff Buckley, Alexandra Burke, and Pentatonix. It’s estimated there are over 300 cover versions of it floating around! Then after Cohen’s passing in 2016 the song also re-charted on the Billboard Hot 100, when it didn’t even get on there on its initial release.
Much like the R.E.M song, this one is played using arpeggios which move in a very simple up and down fashion with no sequencing of any kind. You play 3 notes ascending and 3 notes descending to give us our 6 note arpeggio. It’s nice and slow so is ideal for beginners. You’ll essentially take that basic shape and use it to outline the chords C, G, Am, F, and G using that pattern.
I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry by Hank Williams
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Going with a bit of an older one next with this1949 classic written by the incredible country singer/songwriter Hang Williams. This was a single release and not tied to any album (as was more common back then). Because of its classic and iconic nature, it’s also been covered by a huge number of musicians including Terry Bradshaw and Jerry lee Lewis.
In a nice change of pace, this one is predominantly played using fingerpicking. So it’s a good one to try after you’re already comfortable with strumming chords in 3/4. The notes might seem a little bit all over the place at first, but if you pay particular attention to where the 1 count comes in, ensure you’re getting that right, and then fit the rest around it you’ll have this down in no time!
Idontwannabeyouanymore by Billie Eilish
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What’s always so impressive with Billie Eilish is that it’s just her and her brother who both write and produce all their music. Which for the level of quality they achieve is something very special. This was a single released as part of her debut EP ‘Don’t Smile At Me’. The song deals with the topic of depression and the feeling of not wanting to be yourself anymore which is something Billie Eilish has struggled with for a long time now.
Guitar wise we’ll just be using 4 chords here which are C, G, Am, and G. You can play them with their regular open positions. Of course, this song is in 3/4 but it’s not just a simple case of hitting a chord on each beat, there are lots of soft hits and harder strums followed by some quick muting. It’s surprisingly involved so be sure to listen to the strumming carefully and try your best to emulate it.
Iris by Goo Goo Dolls
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So although this was released as a promotional single for their sixth album, it was part of the original soundtrack to the 1998 movie City of Angels. It was the popularity of the movie that contributed so heavily to exposing the Goo Goo Dolls to a wider audience and is largely credited for their success. It was able to hit the number 1 spot in a number of countries including Australia and Canada, and even got to the number 3 spot in the UK.
The song makes good use of some interesting chord voicings where there’s some really nice harmonic interplay between the notes that are being held down. Now if you’re a beginner and are looking for something a little more simple the provided video tab also outlines an ‘easy’ way to play them using more traditional open chord shapes.
Judith by A Perfect Circle
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While some people may think of A Perfect Circle as the singer of Tool’s side band, but over time they have more than proven themselves as a legitimate musical force. This track in particular is a fan favorite and was the lead single from their debut album ‘Mer de Noms’ released back in 2000. Lyrically the song discusses singer Maynard’s mother who had become wheelchair reliant after unfortunately suffering from a stroke.
This one is much more of a rock (and slightly metal) effort which shares some similarities to tool in so much as it will ride over the bar and doesn’t just sit nearly into tiny 3/4 phrases. Try to play along with a metronome if at all possible as this will help to give you a better sense of where the guitar part lies in relation to the beat.
Lonely Day by System of a Down
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We might know System of a Down for their slightly comedic and off-the-wall style that blends multiple genres under the umbrella of hard rock and metal. But despite their lively personas, underneath it all, they are fantastic songwriters and world-class musicians. So when they choose to get serious you can really feel it. And this song showcases that perfectly.
In order to play along to the original track you’ll need to tune to drop Db. Which is essentially the same as regular drop D tuning but every string will be dropped an additional semitone (or drop C up one semitone). There are also some very cool-sounding chord voicings used here so it’s a great opportunity to expand upon your guitar vocabulary a little.
Open Arms by Journey
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This track was released twice, first as a single and part of the original soundtrack to the movie ‘Heavy Metal’ and then again from their album ‘Escape’. It ended up becoming one of their biggest hits (in no small thanks to the additional exposure provided by the movie) and was able to reach the number 2 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100. People often describe this track as ‘one of the greatest love songs ever written’ and it received almost universal critical praise.
This is a bit more of a progressive effort for a love ballad, so there’s a really fun mixture of open chords, power chords, single-note passages, leads, octaves, you name it! If you want a song that’s both interesting to learn and engaging to jam to this is ideal. Many of the guitar parts repeat so in terms of individual sections there’s actually not too much to learn either, so don’t be put off if at first it seems a little ‘busy’.
Piano Man by Billy Joel
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Next we have a fairly light and laid-back soft rock song which also has some smatterings of folk, making great use of the harmonica as part of the track’s main motif. Released in 1973 as a promotional single from the album ‘Piano Man’, it really served as his breakthrough single in the US, and was able to reach the number 25 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and has since become a quintessential track on live setlist. The track tells the story of Joel’s time working as a piano singer at an executive bar in LA.
The strumming pattern for this is 1 held 1/4 note chord followed by 4 8th note strummed chords, which results in our full bar of 3/4. You’ll notice the chord change on each bar, but they are just simple voicing changes and are nice and comfortable in the hands to play with.
Amazing Grace by John Newton
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You are probably already familiar with the classic Christian Hymn from way back in the 1700s, of which the original text is credited to John Newton. Over the years (centuries in fact) it’s been able to retain a degree of popularity and relevance through numerous re-recording and uses in popular media. And it’s estimated that the song is performed about 10 million times annually which is a feat few songs will ever get to achieve.
The one thing that generally stays consistent from recording to recording of this classic tune is the primary melody. This can sometimes be a little challenging to play in 3/4 if there’s no kind of percussion section to support you, but in these scenarios we recommend taking a look at the bar and seeing what note lines up with 1 count, you can use that as an ‘anchor’ of sorts to help keep you in time.
America by Simon & Garfunkel
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Another pretty relaxing and mellow affair that contains a good amount of folk-rock vibes. Taken from Simon and Garfunkel’s fourth studio album titled Bookends which was released in 1968. 4 years later it was released once again as a B-side for another single, but after it achieved an unexpected amount of success and peaked on the charts it was then moved to the A-side.
Much like Piano Man, we have a strumming pattern that plays a single bass note on the A string which is held for a quarter note, which is then filled up with 4 quick 8th note strums of the rest of the chord. This gives us our 3 x 1/4 notes making up the bar of 3/4. Chord wise we’re in the key of C and will be using the progression C, C9, Am7, C, and F.
Are You Lonesome Tonight by Elvis Presley
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Although this was written way back in 1926 and recorded by a huge number of artists up to the 1950s. It was the Elvis version that really gave the song a new level of commercial success. He decided to perform after a suggestion from his manager Colonel Tom Parker, as the song was his wife’s favorite tune. By 1992 it was awarded the Recording Industry Association of America 2x platinum award for selling over 2 million copies.
We’re using a nice and simple chord progression in D minor here, no capo is required and we’ll be using the three chords Dm, G7, and C. The strumming pattern is in triplet timing and we’ll be playing the pattern D, D, UD, U which gives us 3 sets of 1/4 note triplets, making the bar of 3/4.
Army Dreamers by Kate Bush
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A quite striking and stylized song from the English star Kate Bush which has nice finger-picked accompaniment. Taken from her third album ‘Never for Ever’ which was able to reach the top 20’s on the UK hit charts. During the gulf war, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) deemed the song inappropriate due to its themes of the military and warfare. It also has a very popular music video accompaniment which is currently sitting at over 6 million views on YouTube.
Although the tablature details this as 60bpm in 6/8, no one will actually play it like this. Treat it as 3/4 which is the same thing, just at double the bpm of 120. This way you can think of it as just a bass note picked with the thumb followed by 2 chords on the higher strings to total your 3 x 1/4 notes. This way you can easily identify the start of a new bar with each pluck of the thumb.
Bed of Roses by Bon Jovi
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Time to slow things down a bit with this fantastic ballad from Bon Jovi, we don’t get to reference much music from the 90s, but this track from 1993 is one of the best. Bon Jovi wrote it while sitting in his hotel room suffering from a hangover due to having a pretty rowdy time the night before. It contains some soft lead guitar playing along with some simple power chords. The drums are also very light with oftentimes the 1 count not having any accent at all.
If you imagine the snare hit as coming in on the second bar of each 3/4 count you’ll soon start to hear an ‘imaginary’ kick drum on the bar beforehand. Once you can identify the start of each bar it becomes much easier to sink into the groove which is particularly important for the lead guitar parts where you’ll often be playing over the bar and feeling a little ‘disconnected’ with those 1 counts.
Blackout by Muse
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Muse always does a great job of being eclectic while still making everything feel like it’s supposed to be there. Blackout is a great example of this, with ballad-like drums, emotive orchestration, and ambient guitars that go from Spanish-acoustic sounding to grungy heavy distortion. All the while maintaining this particular vibe and atmosphere that only a band like Muse could pull off.
So what does this mean to you as a guitarist? Well in this song you’ll primarily be using a technique called ‘tremolo picking’, this essentially means picking super fast. The trick between tremolo picking that sounds messy and intentional is slightly accenting the 1 count, that way is the notes in the middle of the drift a little it ends up being inconsequential to the listener as long as you’re locking in on those 1 counts.
Bojangles by Jerry Jeff Walker
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A very late 60’s song written by Jerry Jeff Walker and released as a single by The Nitty Gritty Dirt band for their 1970 released album ‘Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy’. Jeff Walker has noted that he was inspired to write this track, which contains an interesting mix of country and folk, after encountering someone while he was in jail (for public intoxication) who called himself Mr. Bojangles in order to hide his real identity from the police.
This is one of the easier songs to play in 3/4 timing as we can essentially take a fairly regular chord progression that uses some nice and easy open chords. But we strum them by first hitting the lower portion of the chord to make a kind of pseudo bass part, followed by two strums of the entire chord. Do this in 1/4 notes and you have your easy 3/4 timing! You’ll also need a capo on the second fret to bring it in key.
Down in the Valley by Johnny Cash
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While we don’t expect you to be able to sing with that iconic rich and deep voice that Johnny Cash has, you should definitely be able to play the guitar part for this song. This is considered a fairly traditional American folk song tune recorded by a huge number of notable artists, but Johnny Cash was not initially responsible for popularising the song as it wasn’t released until 2005 as a part of Johnny Cash’s boxed set. Which contained 4 whole albums. This was part of ‘Disk 3- The Great American Songbook’ which contained re-recordings of many classic tunes.
For this song we’ll be playing with some fairly standard open chords, the main thing to focus on here is the dynamics of the playing and trying to match the strumming intensity with each hit to that of the original recording.
Happy Birthday by Misc Traditional
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No doubt a tune you’re already fairly familiar with! It’s a great one to learn as it’s often performed without a backing track, so no percussion section to help you out, it’s all up to you to keep in time and let that internal musical clock carry you. Of course, while you’re learning the song the provided guitar tab will help a lot in the meantime.
You can play this in any tuning or key that you’d like as it’s played acapella (with just a single instrument) and it’s all played just using a single note melody making it ideal if you are a beginner.
Holiday by Weezer
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This track was originally released on Weezer’s 1994 album ‘The Blue Album’, but has since been released an additional 5 more times on various singles, live albums, deluxe editions, and the OST for the movie ‘Accepted’. It’s definitely a popular song of theirs with the streaming video on YouTube sitting at over 1.3 million views but outside of the live single release it’s never really been a big part of their live set.
The track is underpinned by this nice 3/4 shuffle beat that’s very comfortable to play over. There’s a cool rhythm section you can jam with which just needs fairly easy open chords to play. Or alternatively, there’s some creative lead playing in there too if you feel you’re up for a bit more of a challenge.
I Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher
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So for those reading this that weren’t born in the 60s, you probably know this song most famously for its use in the incredible Bill Murray film Groundhog Day. Which is the story of a man who has to relive the same day over and over again, and each time he wakes up ‘I Got You Babe’ is the song that’s playing on the radio. It’s considered a classic folk-rock song and was able to hit the number 1 spot in both the UK and Canada.
Here you’ll just be playing a cool little single note motif which you can pair up as groups of 3 8th notes that play for 4 bars of 3/4 before turning around. You don’t need to pay attention too much to the overall one count, just focus on staying on tempo in smaller groups of 3 and you’ll easily feel when it’s time to change section.
Innocent When You Dream by Tom Waits
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A lesser-known song but one that is equally as powerful with Tom Waits delivering a stellar vocal performance with his signature emotive and gritty fry style. This is part of his ninth studio album titled ‘Franks Wild Years’ released in 1987 and contains some unique tonal elements which is why it’s often categorized under ‘experimental’ despite its quite catchy and memorable nature.
This is a song that is simultaneously easy and challenging to play to. The challenge and one of the main reasons a beginner should seek a song like this out is because there is no leading percussion element to help you stay in time, you’ll have to rely on your own internal musical clock. But at the same time, it’s at a very comfortable slow bpm using a waltz style timing, so at least there’s nothing challenging in terms of the notes you’ll play.
Manic Depression by Jimi Hendrix
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The ultimate source of attitude and personality on guitar, this is a signature Hendrix track that’ll need you to get out your Strat and crank up the fuzz. This was released in 1967 after being recorded by Jimi’s band ‘the Jimi Hendrix Experience’ in London. The song features a jazz-inspired drum pattern which is where the feeling of three comes from, this is then mimicked by the guitars and bassline to create this unique and expressive song.
You’ll need to tune the guitar a whole step flat to be in key with the song. Although the track is in 3/4 the guitar part operates quite separately, doing its own expressive lead lines while the rhythm section holds the timing down. This is both a blessing and a curse as you don’t need to completely follow the beat, but if you don’t pay attention and drift off too much you’ll really feel it.
Mull Of Kintyre by Wings
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Taking a break from the more involved guitar playing of Jimi with this 70’s folk song written by the British/American band Wings. Featuring Paul McCartney and Denny Laine. Although released in 1977 it was demoed quite a few years earlier, at least as early as 1974 as it had appeared on the extended homo demo recording people named as ‘the piano tape’. It went on to become one of the best-selling singles in the UK of all time, even hitting the number 1 Christmas song spot during its year of release.
From a playing perspective, this is as easy as it gets. You’ll be picking 1 open note on the 1 count which acts something like a bass, followed by 2 strums of a higher chord on counts 2 and 3. So 3 strums per bar and this simply repeats for the entirety of the song, you just need to worry about changing between that D and G chord.
My Back Pages by Bob Dylan
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After departing from that folk style that popularised him in the first place, My Back Pages was definitely a stylistic throwback to those earlier protest songs in which just Dylan and his acoustic were featured. It shares some similarities with his previous album too with that slightly rough vocal performance combined with a confidently strummed acoustic guitar. The track itself is from Bob’s 1964 album ‘Another Side of Bob Dylan’.
Here you’ll just get to use a really nice and simple strumming pattern which is simply a downstroke on each quarter note of the bar counting 1 2 3, 1 2 3, leaving you entirely free to focus on the chord changes. Speaking of which you’ll just need 5 super common chords which are G, C, Am, Em, and F.
Nothing Else Matters by Metallica
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As Metallica matured as a band, they started to explore new styles and integrate new genres into their music. Which at first included slower tempo, but still equally heavy songs. But by the time the Black Album rolled around they were willing to try anything, and Nothing Else Matters is a great example of a metal band’s take on a ballad. Needless to say, it worked out great, becoming one of the most popular tracks and opening them up to a new, wider audience thanks to its perfect balance of heaviness, catchiness, and accessibility.
The opening motif for this song is the perfect chance to practice that 3/4 timing in a fingerpicking context. You just need to ascend 3 open notes, then descend 3 open notes. Once you have that mastered you can start to work your way further through the song where the same fundamental pattern is maintained, but there’s lots of harmony and additional bass notes involved that progressive ramp up the difficulty.
Take It To The Limit by The Eagles
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You’re probably a bit worn out from all that Metallica, so we’re slowing it down a bit with a classic soft rock song from The Eagle’s fourth album titled ‘One of These Nights’. It was their biggest single during the time of its release in 1975 and was able to hit number 12 on the UK charts and No 25 on the Billboard Hot 100. Songwriter Randy Meisner wrote the majority of the song but has mentioned that he needed help from the other members in order to finish it which seemed to be a recurring theme in the band’s songwriting process.
The guitar plays a bit more of a supporting role here where you’ll be playing some octaves, short strummed chords, and some simple barred lead lines on the higher strings. It’s all pretty simple stuff to play and is mainly about the interaction between where it sits on the bar and how it relates to that 3/4 timing.
My Favorite Things by Julie Andrews
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So in a slightly different format, this was actually written as a ‘show tune’, which means it was written for television or theater and then performed after the fact by a performing musician. In this case it’s a tune from the classic musical ‘The Sound of Music’ – you know the one, the hills are alive with the sound of music, that one. But for this song its most popular version was recorded by Julie Andrews who played the character Maria in the 1965 television movie version of the musical.
The guitars here are just playing nice and simple strummed chords over equally simple rhythm backing, if you wanted to try your hand at both singing and playing in 3/4 this could be a great one to try!