I'm new to music theory so I'm sorry if my question is trivial.

Is it correct to say that, in practice, the only difference between 4/4 vs. 3/4 time signatures is where the accents are located? To me, 4/4 and 3/4 seem very similar, apart from the location of the accents.

  • 4/4 & 3/4 are not tempi [tempos], they are time signatures. – Tetsujin Aug 5 '18 at 12:38
  • I'm sorry. I've just edited – Koinos Aug 5 '18 at 12:39
  • Note that the "location of accents" can have significant harmonic and melodic consequences. Important notes tend to be placed on accented beats, so playing in 4/4 a tune which was written in 3/4 may bring lackluster results. – ex nihilo Aug 5 '18 at 13:15

If they run at the same tempo, then yes, the accents will be in different places...

 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3 1 2 3
 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 

Every four/three bars they will line up again, as the least common multiple is 12, 4 x 3 and 3 x 4.

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As far as tempo is concerned, yes. That just indicates how many quarter notes are played per minute and says nothing about accents.

However, these time signatures couldn't be further away from each other. The time signature is the foundation of the rhythm, it's essentially the backbone of most music. It might be a bad example, but if you have a polka (2/4), you can't make a waltz (3/4) of it without major changes to the rhythm, while all styles in 2/4 and 4/4 are viable, even R&B and techno.

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A time signature tells us nothing about tempo (speed). Yes, it tells us where the accents are. If you consider this of secondary importance, think of the difference between a march and a waltz!

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  • It's true that the time signature tells you nothing about the tempo, formally. Informally, there are conventions in certain types of music. For example, if a tune is in 6/8 time and it's Irish, it's probably written to be danced to, and should be played relatively quickly. A fiddle tune in cut time should be played quite fast. A lullaby in 3/4 is going to be played slowly. Etc. But those heuristics aren't going to work all the time, nor do they give you the exact tempo. – Wayne Conrad Aug 6 '18 at 14:30
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    The word 'Jig' will tell you more than the time signature. And the word 'Lullaby'. – Laurence Payne Aug 6 '18 at 16:43

4/4 and 3/4 create very different feels because of the change in the location of the accents. In 4/4 the strongest accent is on beat 1, and the second strongest accent is on beat 3, which puts only one beat between each accented beat. In 3/4, the accent is on beat one, which puts two beats between each accented beat. Because of this, 4/4 has a more "square" feel, while 3/4 has a more "round" feel.

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