Most pop, rock, hip-hop, and other modern music is in 4/4 timing, but there is a surprising amount of popular music in 3/4 time. This time signature consists of three quarter notes in each measure.
In jazz, 3/4 timing is also commonly called a “waltz”. It is often confused with 6/8 timing, which has a very similar feel but emphasizes the first and fourth beats rather than just the first beat.
3/4 is a smooth time signature that doesn’t feel or sound strange, so you might be surprised to discover the many 3/4 songs that use this timing.
Billy Joel – Piano Man
Billy Joel’s second album, Piano Man, established him as a world-class songwriter when it was released in 1973. The song of the same title is one of the standout compositions from the album and continues to be amongst Joel’s best-known tracks to this day.
“Piano Man” is a first-person song written from the point of view of Joel as he plays piano in a bar. He describes the people that he met when he was working as a pianist in bars and restaurants before he got signed to Columbia records.
Written in the key of C major, “Piano Man” is one of the most popular songs in ¾ timing. The instrumentation used in the song consists of piano, acoustic guitar, bass guitar, harmonica, accordion, drums, and mandolin.
Queen – We Are The Champions
“We Are The Champions” ranks among the best-known pop songs in ¾ time. Penned by frontman Freddie Mercury, it was released on Queen’s sixth album entitled News of the World in 1977.
The song has gone on to achieve widespread popularity, partially due to its association with victory in major sporting competitions like the FIFA World Cup.
Surprisingly, “We Are The Champions” has never reached number 1 in any singles charts. Despite this, it continues to be one of Queen’s most popular and best-loved songs.
Elvis Presley – Can’t Help Falling In Love
Released in October 1961, “Can’t Help Falling In Love” spent four weeks at the top of the UK singles charts. One of the most popular ¾ time signature songs, it was written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss, and features the B-side, “Rock-A-Hula Baby”.
One of the most iconic ¾ time signature songs ever recorded, “Can’t Help Falling In Love ” showcased Elvis’ crooning vocal style, and was a staple of his live shows until his untimely death.
The Beatles – Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
When The Beatles released “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” from their iconic album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, the song caused a lot of controversy due to critics linking it to the use of psychedelic substances.
The band always denied this connection, and eventually, the song’s radio ban was lifted. Written mostly by John Lennon, the song was recorded in EMI Studios in London and is regarded as one of the earliest psychedelic rock tracks.
Metallica – Nothing Else Matters
“Nothing Else Matters” is one of Metallica’s most iconic songs. Released in 1922, it was the third single from the band’s self-titled fifth album.
The guitar solo in this song was played by lead vocalist James Hetfield, with the main guitarist, Kirk Hammet, not appearing on the recording. The track also features an orchestral arrangement by Michael Kamen.
Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah
Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is one of the most covered songs in recording music history, with artists such as Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, and John Cale all releasing successful versions.
The song was written by Cohen in 1984 and featured on his album, Various Positions. It is in the key of C major and includes a fingerpicked chord sequence on the guitar, with poetic lyrics.
REM – Everybody Hurts
Taken from the 1992 album Automatic for the People, “Everybody Hurts” is a stunning piece of music in 3/4 time. It was certified platinum in the United Kingdom, selling over 600,000 copies.
Hank Williams – I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
In 1949 American country legend Hank Wiliams released his now iconic composition, “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”. The song has since been covered by countless musicians.
Rumors have circulated that the song was sold to Williams by a young songwriter named Paul Gilley, but Williams claimed that he was the one who came up with the lyrics and music to this country hit.
The Corrs – Runaway
Irish band, The Corrs, enjoyed worldwide success in the 1990s. Their 1995 single, “Runaway”, is one of their best-known songs. Written by Andrea, Sharon, and Caroline Corr, the song is predominantly in F major.
This song has a 3/4 time signature that is highlighted by the rhythm section, and its music video was shot in Dublin, Ireland.
Wings – Mull Of Kintyre
“Mull of Kintyre” is a folk-rock song inspired by the location of Paul McCartney’s farm in the Scottish countryside. This track would go on to become Wings’ best-selling single in the UK, where it held the Christmas number 1 spot in 1997.
The song was so popular that it was the first single to reach two million sales in the United Kingdom.
The Beatles – Oh! Darling
“Oh! Darling” is another song in 3/4 timing written by Paul McCartney, and was released on the classic 1969 album Abbey Road.
To get the gritty tone that the lead vocal track required, McCartney is reported to have arrived at Abbey Road Studios early every day for a week. He sang the song alone, aiming to wear his voice out to create the strained vocal tone that made it onto the final take.
Sonny & Cher – I Got You Babe
Before Cher enjoyed a successful solo career, she found fame as part of the folk-rock duo, Sonny & Cher. Their 1965 single, “I Got You Babe” topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the USA for three weeks.
This catchy folk-rock song was written by Sonny Bono for his wife at the time, Cher. Originally, Cher was unenthusiastic about the song, but eventually, she came around to the idea of recording it, and the rest is history!
Bob Dylan – The Times They Are A-Changin’
Bob Dylan’s early folk music in the first half of the 1960s had a huge impact on the culture of the USA and the world at that time. His masterpiece, “The Times They Are A-Changin’ was featured on the album of the same name in 1965.
Dylan’s poetic lyrics and archaic vocals glide over a 3/4 time guitar chord sequence, and he plays his signature harmonica melodies in between the verses.
Patti Page – Tennessee Waltz
After originally being recorded at RCA Victor Studios in Chicago in late 1947 by Pee Wee King, “Tenessee Waltz” was covered by Patti King in 1950 and the song went on to sell millions of records – at one time holding the record for being the biggest selling song in Japan’s history!
Featuring a classic “waltz” 3/4 time signature, this song continues to be played around the world for over 70 years since its original release.
Seal – Kiss From a Rose
Seal’s 1994 single “Kiss From a Rose” was released as part of the soundtrack of the Batman Forever film in 1995 and went on to enjoy worldwide success, becoming his best-selling track.
Written by Seal and produced by Trevor Horn, “Kiss From a Rose” is a soulful ballad with rock influences that pulsates with a strong 3/4 rhythm.
Jimi Hendrix – Manic Depression
“Manic Depression” was released as part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut solo album, Are You Experienced. Released in 1967, it was produced by Hendrix’s manager and ex-bassist of The Animals, Chad Chandler.
An uptempo rock track, the song benefits from drummer Mitch Mitchell’s jazzy style, which drives the 3/4 meter.
Johnny Cash – Down in the Valley
Released as part of the posthumous album, The Legend, “Down in the Valley” is a country ballad recorded by iconic artist Johnny Cash. A demo version of the song was also released online and captures the intimate feel of the lyrics and vocals.
The Beatles – Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
“Norwegian Wood” was predominantly written by John Lennon and was released on the 1965 album by The Beatles entitled Rubber Soul. The lyrics were heavily inspired by Bob Dylan, and the song notably features a sitar melody played by lead guitarist George Harrison.
“Norwegian Wood” is heralded as a significant song in the psychedelic rock movement, as it triggered the use of Indian instruments in western rock music.
Queen – Somebody To Love
“Somebody To Love” is another classic example of a Queen song in 3/4 timing. This track is influenced by gospel music, with the four band members recording complex harmonies in the verses and chorus.
Queen wrote many songs with ¾ beats during their decorated career. Written by Freddie Mercury, “Somebody To Love” is in the key of A♭ major, and features complex tonality while also showcasing Mercury’s extensive vocal range.
Joe Cocker – With A Little Help From My Friends
Originally recorded in 4/4 timing by The Beatles for their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “With A Little Help From My Friends” was transformed by English vocalist Joe Cocker in 1968.
Cocker switched the timing to 3/4 and famously performed the track at Woodstock Festival. Paul McCartney described his version as “mind-blowing”, which is high praise!
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Breaking The Girl
“Breaking the Girl” is one of the only songs released by prolific California rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers that is in 3/4 timing. Recorded at The Mansion in LA in 1991, it was released on the classic album, Blood Sugar Sex Magic.
In the documentary Funky Monks, you can see the band creating “Breaking The Girl” using complex percussion patterns and a wide range of instruments and objects to create the rhythm section.
The Animals – The House of the Rising Sun
Many people wrongly believe that The Animals wrote their hit single “The House of the Rising Sun”, but it was a traditional folk song that is estimated to be hundreds of years old.
The Animals’ version was released in 1964 and is considered to be one of the first hits in the folk-rock genre. The track features a 3/4 backbeat with powerful vocals from frontman Eric Burdon.
Lou Reed – Perfect Day
“Perfect Day” was released on Lou Reed’s iconic album, Transformer. It was produced by David Bowie and Mick Ronson and was recorded in Trident Studios in London in 1972.
This song features a simplistic piano melody and is in 3/4 timing, with Reed’s descriptive lyricism on full show.
The Beatles – You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
As you tell from this list, Liverpudlian icons The Beatles were fans of writing pop songs in 3/4 timing. “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” was written by John Lennon, and featured on the 1965 album, Help!.
It is speculated that Lennon wrote the song about having to hide the fact that he was married from The Beatles’ fans in the early 1960s, but this was never confirmed. The track was also used in the Help! movie.
Goo Goo Dolls – Iris
“Iris” is one of the best-known singles by American alt-rock outfit, Goo Goo Dolls. The track was written for the movie City of Angels but eventually ended up on the band’s album, Dizzy Up the Girl.
With its powerful 3/4 rhythm and catchy guitar melody, this rock track was a commercial success for Goo Goo Dolls.
Julie Andrews – My Favorite Things
“My Favorite Things” was written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and was performed in the musical The Sound Of Music by legendary actress and singer, Julie Andrews.
Simon & Garfunkel – America
Paul Simon wrote the classic 3/4 time song, “America”, for Simon & Garfunkel’s fourth studio album, Bookends. The lyrics describe a young couple hit hiking across the USA. It is considered one of Simon’s greatest compositions.