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The difference between 3/4 and 6/8 – take the quiz!

Bron, in Music lessons
Nov 16, 2020 | 2 min read

Never made sense of the difference between 3/4 and 6/8 – or just time signatures in general? We’ve got you. Don’t forget to take our short listening quiz at the end to test your ears!

If we’re thinking purely mathematically, 3/4 and 6/8 should be the same thing – simplify 6/8 and you get 3/4. 

But, time signatures aren’t fractions – in music, 3/4 is something different from 6/8. (For a quick refresher on time signatures, check out our short guide to Rhythm Basics.)

Even though both 3/4 and 6/8 have six eighth notes in each measure, the way we group them is what differentiates them.

Both 3/4 and 6/8 have six eighth notes in a measure, but what separates them is how we group them.

In 3/4, we group the eighth notes in twos, resulting in 3 strong beats in a measure – on the quarter note beats.

In 6/8, we group the eighth notes in threes, resulting in 2 strong beats in a measure – on the dotted quarters.

In standard music notation practice, we beam notes in such a way that the first note of each grouping is the strongest.

Try vocalizing the beats, keeping the eighth notes at the same speed:
“ONE and TWO and THREE and”
“ONE and a TWO and a”

You’ll find that the feel of the two are completely different!

In conclusion, the difference between 3/4 and 6/8: we hear and feel 3/4 in 3, whereas we hear and feel 6/8 in two. 3/4 has three groups of two; 6/8 has two groups of three.

Test yourself!

Can you tell whether these songs are in 3/4 or 6/8? Answers below. (Don’t scroll past the image if you don’t want spoilers!)

  1. We Are The Champions – Queen
  2. Slavonic Dance Op.72, No. 2  – Antonín Dvořák
  3. Are You Lonesome Tonight? – Elvis Presley
  4. Piano Man – Billy Joel
  5. My Favorite Things – Julie Andrews

Answers: 2, 3, 5 are 3/4 while 1, 4 are 6/8

How did you do? It can get tricky when “ONE and a” feels like a fast “ONE two three”. Check out our guide to identifying time signatures for how to decode this enigma!

Soundbrenner is a company dedicated to help musicians stay focused on what truly matters: their music. By creating innovative devices, such as Soundbrenner Pulse and Core, our goal is to deliver the best possible practice experience for musicians. Click here to find out more.

Got a question about Soundbrenner wearables? Reach out to us at [email protected], we’re happy to help!

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