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.
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.
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.
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!)
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!
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