IN THE WOODSHED
In this issue’s Woodshed Charlie Griffiths examines 3/4 time and how the waltz feel fits into music of The Beatles, Hendrix, Trivium and more.
Charlie Griffiths looks at how everyone from The Beatles to Hendrix have used 3/4 time.
Yes, 3/4 time means three quarternotes, or ‘downbeats’ per bar. This feel is traditionally referred to as a waltz, and goes back to the great classical composers, most famously Strauss’s The Blue Danube. The 3/4 feel has its place in pop and rock music too and can yield some often creative and interesting results.
If we take The Beatles as an example the bridge sections of We Can Work It Out has a very clear ‘1-2-3, 1-2-3’ count. Note that this is is a very different feel to 6/8 time, which contains the same amount of quavers (6) but has a different feel. 6/8 is more like Norwegian Wood (1 and a 2 and a) in which each beat is divided up into triplets. These two feels are very commonly confused as counting can be quite subjective depending on the feel and groove of the piece.
Compared to common time, which has a very even, symmetrical structure, the waltz feel is by its nature asymmetrical. A 4/4 groove typically has a backbeat snare emphasising the second and fourth beats, so each bar can be seen as two beats, followed by two more beats. As 3/4 doesn’t divide equally we can play around with where to place the emphasis. We can either look at the bar as one beat, followed by two beats, or as two beats followed by one.
Our first two examples illustrate two different ways of emphasising the 3/4. Example 1 is a Beatles style part which breaks the bar into one, then two quarter-notes. Example 2 is inspired by Billy Howerdel’s playing with A Perfect Circle and splits the three quarter notes into two, then one.
Example 3 is a Jimi Hendrix style riff which incorporates a triplet feel. There is still an obvious structure of three quarter-note down beats, but the count in between the downbeats is ‘1 & a, 2 & a, 3 & a’. This only effects the rhythm of beat 2, but it’s a good idea to keep the count consistent throughout.
Example 4 is a metal riff in the style of Killswitch Engage or Trivium. There is a repeating melody on the fourth string, but the bass notes change every bar; this is a good way of outlining the time signature for the listener. The snare is placed on every downbeat which gives the 3/4 a more even sound, but at the same time is not as predictable as 4/4.
Sometimes you might want to disguise the time signature a little to create rhythmic tension. Example 5 illustrates the effect used in Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. The guitar riff is in 3/4, with the chord changing every bar. Against this the drums are playing a straight 4/4 groove throughout.
NEXT MONTH Charlie goes to theWoodshed and enters the world of tapped harmonics
compar ed to common ti me, which has a very even str ucture, the walt z feel is by it s very nat ure assymetri cal
The Beatles used waltz time in We Can Work It Out and other songs