I am a beginner and have encountered the following tab/sheet music notes. It is in the 3/4 time signature, but it clearly shows more than 3 quarter notes in a bar. I am stumped on how to read and play this (this is for fingerstyle guitar): enter image description here

I am guessing it has something to do with the chords in each bar, but have no idea how to proceed. If it is any help, this is the notes for the start of this song:

I tried following along to decipher the rhythm, but I find my ear too inexperienced and the song too fast. Any help will be appreciated.

  • which bar are you looking at? all of them have three beats Aug 4, 2020 at 12:48
  • After reading the answers I realized that the stems pointing up and down are to be considered separately in terms of the time signature. Do excuse any misuse of terminology as I am self-taught.
    – Ash33
    Aug 4, 2020 at 16:21

4 Answers 4


Take a good look at the stems on the notes. Some point upwards, some downwards. In each bar, there are two dotted crotchets. Bars 1,2 and 4 they all have stems down, and bar 3, stems up.Count them and it works out right - 2 x 1 and a half = 3.

Now look at the other notes, including the notes written on top of each other. They all amount to 3 crotchets per bar - good for 3/4 time.

Imagine one instrument playing the stems up notes, another playing the stems down notes. Simultaneously. That's what could happen. However, one player gets to play it all. And it's easier to write like this for guitar or piano. Try playing each part separately before trying it all together. That way, you can hear what each part is like. If you have a looper pedal, you could record stems up, and play over it stems down.


In the first Am chord, all except the lowest A note are quarter notes, of which there are 3 in each measure in a 3/4 time signature. This probably makes sense to you if we for now ignore that low A and the dotted E (the 2 on the D string in tab).

The trick is the dotted A note in the first chord, which has the length of 1.5 quarter note. Looking at the dotted E we omitted before, which is also 1.5 quarter note, we again get 3 quarter notes in a 3/4 time signature.

You simply play the Am chord on the first beat, the B note (4 in tab) on the second beat, the dotted E between the second and third beat and the final C (1 in tab) on the third beat.

     1   and  2  and  3  and  1  and  2
     Am       B   E   C       G       A

There are two things going on at the same time there, it's like a grand staff (treble staff above and bass staff below) compressed into a single staff.

The chords and top notes are one line, and the lower (dotted) notes are another line. The lower notes are also syncopated (in each bar, the first one is on a down beat and the second on an up beat). Quite tricky to play until you get the hang of it.

In practice, first learn the top notes (all down beats), then learn the second line separately (two notes per bar) and finally put them together.


There are not too many beats in the bar, what is confusing you is that some notes are lasting while other are being played.

You can see it as two groups:

  • the non-dotted notes, each one lasting one beat, so 3 beats total
  • the dotted notes, each one lasting one beat and a half, so 3 beats total.

I would note have written this way, but more something like: quarter chord, 2 quavers and one quarter with a "let ring" indication…

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