Sometimes it feels odd when you realize just how many of our songs in Western music are all in the exact same time signature and time feeling.
Which is why one of my favorite things to do is to sometimes spice things up by playing a songs in a different time signature, and that brings about a different feeling.
And perhaps the most common of all of the “odd” time signatures is the 3/4 time, also called a waltz or waltz time.
Especially to songwriters – playing songs that use this time signature can prove useful since it can expand your creativity, and inspire you to write something of your own that isn’t in 4/4 time, for a change… (;
At least I can vouch for myself, where I use 4/4 way too much.
3/4 time signature vs. 6/8 time signature
The difference between 3/4 time and 6/8 time can sometimes be quite vague and confusing, since if you really want, you can pretty much count every 3/4 time song or every 6/8 time song also in the other option…
So the clearest way I know to make sense of it is to simply ask – are the “strong beats” in the song happen every 3 beats? (one two three one two three – 3/4 time)
Or do they happen every 6 beats? (one two three four five six one two three four five six… 6/8 time)
A great fingerpicking and strumming pattern to play all of these songs
1 – A fingerpicking pattern that can work well with almost all of these songs (at least as a beginning, since you can often find something more creative) is to play beat 1 with your thumb on the bass string of the chord, followed by picking strings 1, 2, and 3 (or 2, 3, and 4) with your next 3 fingers. Try it!
2 – on the other hand, some of these songs are more rhythmic, and playing them with such a fingerpicking pattern would really give you a feeling of being stuck while “the song wants to move forward” (songs such as “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson for example) – so for these songs you can play a gentle, brushing strumming pattern (either with a soft pick or gently with the side of your thumb) that puts the emphasis on beat 1…
Anyways, let’s jump into our top 17…
The Top 17 Most Fun Songs to Play In 3/4 Time (for the Guitar)
Piano Man – Billy Joel (Chords)
For me this would always be the first 3/4 song I think of. The reason is that so many songs in 3/4 can go “under your radar” for years – in the way that only unless you’re really “looking for it” and thinking about their time signature – you realize that there’s something different about the rhythm in them…
But at least for me, in Piano Man, the rhythm just screams waltz at every point in the song, which also makes it a great “entry point” / “practice point” as a first 3/4 song to learn deeply.
Plus, the chord progression by itself is a fun, a descending bassline kind of progression, which makes it a lot more interesting than the average rock/pop song of just 3/4 chords.
Nothing Else Matters – Metallica (Chords)
What I love the most about Nothing Else Matters is that no matter on which guitar you’re playing it – acoustic or electric, it always gives that “epic” feeling.
And it’s not even that hard to play it – especially once you get to play some barre chords up the neck. Check out this lesson below to make sure that you’re actually playing it with the correct chord voicings in order to get a close sound to the original piece.
Norah Jones – Come Away with Me (Chords)
There’s something about Norah Jones that just feels so… romantic.
And this song is imho her #1 song that lets you also “do it at home” without having to know a bunch of complex chords, such as her signature song “Don’t Know Why”.
Here – it’s mostly just movement between the 4 chords, and it amazes me every time when I see how much emotion you can get from such a simple progression.
A true joy to play.
Iris – Goo Goo Dolls (Chords)
This 1998 classic that gives us the full dramatic 90’s soft-rock vibes, even when we just play it at home on the acoustic guitar.
If you haven’t played it yet (and I’m sure many of you reading this have – since it’s such a popular song to play) – I guarantee that you’re in for getting a different “feeling” out of your guitar. The 3/4 vibes are felt very strongly in this strumming pattern.
Check out this great lesson below, and also it’s one of those songs where I highly highly recommend (even more than usual) to listen to the original song while you’re learning it, so you can make sure that you’re getting the strumming pattern right.
The Stranglers – Golden Brown (Chords)
This one’s for those of you that are up for a challenge…
Because if you want to play this one at the original tempo, you’d want to start slow and warm up your chops slowly up the tempo – if you want it to sound right.
The up side is that once you can play this one on point (and a fingerpicking pattern such as the one I recommended at the top of the article can do really well here) – most of the other songs on this list would become much easier.
Billie Eilish – When The Party’s Over (Chords)
So much has already been said about Billie Eilish and her brother’s songwriting skills, and their unprecedented success.
But the thing I love the most about them is their willingness to take so many risks in the production process, whether it comes through some very daring lyrics, daring music production choices (such as using a spoon as a legit rhythm instrument, and many other similar choices they’ve made)…
And yes, also their choice to often go with unique time signatures. This song is my favorite song of theirs which isn’t in 4/4, so if you’re into pop music – grab your guitar and let’s do it:
Fallin’ – Alicia Keys (Chords)
Alicia Keys’ breakthrough moment, that shows you how even such an amazingly talented musician, who played piano since she was a toddler and knew so many tricks on the piano…
Can use just two chords to get to the hearts of billions of people.
To this day, more than 20 years later, it is still one of her top 5 most streamed songs on Spotify.
And – while it is certainly a “piano song” – you’d be delighted to see how well it works also on the guitar:
Billy Joel – She’s Always a Woman (Chords)
I have a personal thing with this song, and for years, it resembles to me something about these divine feminine traits that women have and make them so unique and so… womanly.
And it’s beautiful to see and to appreciate how Billy Joel captured this certain essence of womanhood in one song, like I feel no one else have done.
Again, just my 50 cents – but the bottom line is that despite it being such a gorgeous piano song, this is exactly what also makes it a very fun and unique ride on the guitar.
There’s just something to it – taking a song that was written and played on such a different instrument – and translating it to the guitar. So I am also attaching my favorite guitar cover of it from YouTube, to show you that yes, this song can have its own unique magic on the guitar as well, as a guitar song.
Sing this to your loved one… (:
Breakaway – Kelly Clarkson (Chords)
This one is my personal “guilty pleasure”.
A song that feels like a song mostly for 15 year old girls, but that fills me up with so many great emotions that I just can’t get enough of it, and for years I have been coming back to it in times when I need a lift.
(Or when I’m already in a great mood and want to feel even better)
The only problem with playing it on the guitar is that the singing part is… VERY challenging to nail without crashing and burning off pitch. But if you’re up for that challenge too… Here’s a great lesson to help you get going.
My Favorite Things – Julie Andrews (Chords)
Another classic that screams waltz when you hear it and can work beautifully even with the simple fingerpicking pattern I have mentioned at the top of the post.
Especially suitable for playing when you’re sitting on top of a mountain in Switzerland (;
America – Simon & Garfunkel (Chords)
Another masterpiece from Paul Simon that also makes for a very fun song to play.
This song was my #1 song while I was “discovering America” for the first time as a 23 year old guy who came there to work and travel for a whole summer, and I’m sure it served the same purpose for so many others in their own way.
We have that beautiful descending bassline progression, and also a very unusual bridge (the part that starts on a Bb chord) to go along with it and help the poetic lyrics take a ride on the guitar.
Robbie Williams – Mr. Bojangles (Chords)
This one has a bunch of different cover versions, made to the original recording from 1968.
They all kept the same progression and rhythm, but something in the Robbie Williams version caught me, probably because of the gorgeous electric guitar sound that makes me want to listen to it over and over.
It’s a classic “waltz-feeling” song, but with a lot of American country flavors to it – so if you don’t know it yet, you gotta give it a listen. (and if you like it – go ahead and learn it!)
Scarborough Fair (Chords)
Eagles – Take It To The Limit (Chords)
While Hotel California and some other rock songs (Take It Easy, Life on the Fast Lane et. al) are such staples of the Eagles, I always found myself more in their deep ballads.
Songs like Desperado, Seven Bridges Road, Doolin Dalton, and yes – Take It to the Limit too.
The latter, which we’re discussing here, is also an excellent example of another song that is very fun to play and is in 3/4 time, especially in the chorus. (which moves to an even more “waltzy” feeling) Enjoy!
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Chords)
I wouldn’t say this is one of the most fun songs to play… I mean, it’s not bad…
But more than that – it’s useful. (:
(Especially if you’re a father / grandfather and you want to make your youngsters happy on Christmas)
And yes, it’s also in 3/4 time, did you notice that before?
Paul Simon – Still Crazy After All These Years (Chords)
Talking about a Paul Simon songwriting masterpiece…
I truly think this one is easily in his top 5. The lyrics, the feelings, the insanely original chord progression and melody… It can be a subject for an academic research piece.
Do take note though that this is also the most challenging song of everything that’s on this list, but if you’re willing to put in the time and learn it – you’re going to be highly rewarded with a great boost to your skills.
I have to attach my favorite cover to it off of YouTube, from a guy who’s often been a guest on this blog – Josh Turner. Hard not to appreciate such skills. And the best part is that he also made a tutorial for it. Enjoy!
The Beatles – Norwegian Wood (Chords)
I have just one thing to say about this gorgeous Beatles song. Have you ever tried it on a 12 string guitar? (:
If not – you should.
Something about this cool intro riff that keeps the open strings ringing just works so well on so many strings…
Anyways – here’s a great lesson that would help you learn this one:
Doris Day – “Que Sera, Sera” (Chords)
“When I was just a little girlI asked my mother, what will I be Will I be pretty? Will I be rich? Here’s what she said to me”
What a great first verse, oh my God. (I’m completely serious)
If someone can come up with a catchier option – I’m here to have a listen.
Another 3/4 classic and the one to cap off our list: