Music theory > Lessons > Duration of sounds > Time signature > 3/8 time signature example

3/8 time signature example

Explanation of 3/8 time signature

In the article time signature, this is explained that:

- the top number indicates the number of time units in a measure (bar united kingdom).
- the bottom number determines the unit of time.

We can visually translate time signature 3/8 like this:

time signature 3/8

That is to say that there are 3 eighth notes eighth note (quaver) (quavers united kingdom) per measure.

But, what is not indicated in the time signature is that time signature 3/8 can to a simple meter measure or a compound meter. In the article simple and compound meter, you learned that:

- Simple meter (or simple time) is a meter where each beat in a measure can be subdivided by two.
- Compound meter (or compound time) is a meter where each beat in a measure can be subdivided by three.

A beat with 3/8 time signature can be divided by two or three, it depends on the context.

Here are the beats for a simple meter time signature 3/8 measure:

Beats in 3/8 time signature

In that case (simple meter):

- 1 eighth note eighth note (quaver)(quaver united kingdom) equals 1 beat
- 2 sixteenth sixteenth note (semiquaver) notes (semiquavers united kingdom) equals 1 beat
- 1 dotted quarter notedotted quarter note (dotted crotchet) (dotted crotchet united kingdom) equals 3 beats
- and so on...

Here are the beats for a compound meter time signature 3/8 measure:

Beats in 3/8 time signature

- 1 dotted quarter notedotted quarter note (dotted crotchet) (dotted crotchet united kingdom) equals 1 beat
- 3 eighth note eighth note (quaver)(quaver united kingdom) equals 1 beat
- 6 sixteenth sixteenth note (semiquaver) notes (semiquavers united kingdom) equals 1 beat
- and so on...

In the vast majority of cases, a 3/8 bar is a 1 beat compound measure, where each beat equals a dotted quarter note dotted quarter note (dotted crotchet) (dotted crotchet united kingdom):

Beats in 3/8 time signature

Examples found in famous works

J.S. BACH, Corrente from Partita n°6 BWV 830

The movement Corrente from Partita n°6 BWV 830 in E minor by J.S. BACH uses a 3/8 time signature. This musical sample was recorded in 1934 by pianist Walter Gieseking (source, Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license):


This musicial sample is written in E minor and you will notice the use of anacrusis and the use of sixteenth notes.

Verdi, La Donna è Mobile, Rigoletto

Verdi's aria (in B major) La donna e mobile, from the opera Rigoletto uses a 3/8 time signature. Here is a musical sample performed by the famous singer Enrico Caruso, recorded over a century ago, on February 1, 1904 (Source, Public Domain License).

La Donna è Mobile, Rigoletto, by Verdi

Mozart, Horn Concerto in E-flat major

The second movement (Andante) from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Horn concerto K. 417 in E flat major uses a 3/8 time signature:

Horn Concerto in E-flat major, K.417 (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)

This musical sample was recorded in 2005 by horn player Abel Pereira conducted by Miguel Graça Moura with the Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa. (source, CC BY-SA 4.0 license)

Doesn't that magical sound make you want to play the horn?

Brahms, Symphony n°3 opus 90

The movement Poco allegretto from Brahms' Symphony N°3 Opus 90 uses the 3/8 time signature:


This royalty-free sound sample was recorded in 1936 by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bruno Walter (source, Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0)
You will notice the use of quintuplets.

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