Rocking the Waltz: 10 Songs in 3/4 or 6/8 Time

metallicabannerWhenever you look for a formal definition of Rock music, it will invariably say that Rock music is played in the 4/4, or “common”, time signature, and this is largely true. A majority of Rock music is indeed in 4/4 time. But being the contrarian, rebellious creature that it is, Rock also inhabits all kinds of different time signatures, and ¾ time is one of the more common outliers.

The ¾ time signature formed the basis of many Western European folk music traditions, which you can hear in revivals of these styles – one being the Irish Jig. In the early 19th Century, German aristocratic elites gentrified the ¾ time signature through a dance that took the Western world by storm — the waltz. Ever since, ¾ has been known as the waltz rhythm.

The ¾ is characterized by a strong beat followed by two weaker ones: ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three, ONE two three. The 6/8 is a very similar time signature, and although I am a musician, I don’t read music, and the differences between the two are difficult for me to hear, let alone explain.

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The best way to “get” time signatures is to hear them in action. I’ve collected 10 songs that are at least partly in ¾ time, but they are not listed in any particular order so, no wagering.

Jimi Hendrix – Manic Depression

This one often comes up first when ¾ time in Rock is discussed. Can’t you imagine the good burghers of 19th Century Vienna swirling around the salon to this number?


The Beatles – Baby’s In Black

The Lads had maybe a greater affinity for the waltz rhythm than most of their British Invasion counterparts. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away and Norwegian Wood are two more examples.


Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Mr. Bojangles

The waltz is an integral part of the American country and western tradition, derived from its European folk music roots. Hundreds if not thousands of C&W songs are in ¾ time.


Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved a Man The Way I Love You

Imported and merged European music traditions could also explain a relatively high occurrence of the waltz rhythm in soul and rhythm & blues music.


The Pogues w/ Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale of New York

The middle part is pure unadulterated Irish Jig.


Neil Young – Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Sometimes the waltz rhythm can be quiet and real slow…


Weezer – My Name Is Jonas

… and sometimes it can be loud and fast.


Metallica – Nothing Else Matters

Sometimes doing a number in a waltz rhythm can bring an air of sophistication to a band’s music.


Led Zeppelin – Kashmir

What’s interesting about this example is that the guitar riff is in ¾ time, while the drums pound away in 4/4 time, helping to give this song its great feeling of tension.


Kanye West — Spaceship

That Kanye belongs on a Rock site is an argument that I will keep making going forward. For now, just another example of the versatility of the waltz rhythm.


Other Examples of the Waltz Rhythm Include:

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins I Put A Spell On You/ Eagles Take It To The Limit/ Journey Open Arms/ Simon & Garfunkel Scarborough Fair/ Lou Reed Perfect Day/ REM Everybody Hurts/ Sonny & Cher I Got You Babe/ Moody Blues Go Now/ Billy Joel Piano Man/ Muse Blackout/ Gram Parsons Hickory Wind/ Rascals How Can I Be Sure/ Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes If You Don’t Know Me By Now/ The Stranglers Golden Brown

Photo credit: By Kreepin Deth (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

12 comments to “Rocking the Waltz: 10 Songs in 3/4 or 6/8 Time”
  1. You say that 6/8 time is similar to 3/4 time. While you count 3/4 as ONE two three One two three… you feel all three beats. Music in 6/8 time is written to have a different FEEL…. while learning a piece of music, a student studying something in 6/8 time will count: One two three FOUR five six while LEARNING a piece, but in general, music written with 6/8 time FEELS like it is in two, with a definite and distinctive lilt….. almost syncopated….. almost always a musician would count 6/8 time in 2, not in 3!

  2. Thanks for all the great comments, perhaps a musician more expert than I could tell us which songs on this list are 3/4 and which are 6/8.

  3. Nothing Else Matters is definitely in 12/8 by the way. Think of Meter as an expression of feel. Nothing Else Matters is incredibly chilled, how often do you want the “accented” first beat to come through whilst maintaining a rock feel? Well as far as possible away.

    12/8 is felt in 4 groups of 3. 6/8 is 2 groups of 3 before the heavy first beat again. If you were to play it in 6/8 you’d be playing it naturally harsher than the original recording as the leaned on first beat would come around more often.

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