What terms do people use to refer to music with 3 beats per measure? I have heard the term "waltz beat" and "triple meter" but are there other (not necessarily professional) terms?

  • 1
    “In three” is pretty common.
    – trw
    Feb 15, 2019 at 4:12

3 Answers 3


Triple and duple are the theory terms.

'Waltz time' would be just a variation of 'waltz meter.'

'Tempo di menuet' is an expression marking for something that wasn't in simple binary form, but the tempo and feel are meant to be like a minuet. I don't think this is the usage you are thinking of, but it implies a triple meter. You probably won't hear someone say "blues in Bb, tempo di menuet." :-)

Dance names like jig/gigue, tarantella, sarabande, etc. imply binary form, general tempo, and triple meters like 6/8 or 3/2. It seems reasonable to expect someone to refer to one of those dance name to indicate the associated meter. The wording probably wouldn't be "jig meter" but something more like "it uses a jig rhythm" or "with a jig feel."

  • Aren't blues traditionally 4/4/(or 12/8)? And 6/8 time is duple time - compound, granted, with a couple of triplets, but duple nevertheless. 3/2 time is triple. And isn't a tarantella 6/8, so duple?
    – Tim
    Feb 15, 2019 at 15:52
  • That was supposed to be a blues joke. Yeah compound for those particular dances, but I think people sometimes group them - albeit erroneously - with triple time/feel. The question seems to be looking for some possible, less common wording. I'm just offering a few idea. People really should just say the meter and tempo. Feb 15, 2019 at 16:09
  • That's o.k. I was racking my brain trying to find any blues actually in 3 time. There has to be one. just one, maybe! And I prefer blue jokes...
    – Tim
    Feb 15, 2019 at 16:16
  • I don't think 'Tempo di menuet' has anything to say about the FORM of the piece.
    – Laurence
    Feb 15, 2019 at 16:36
  • Well, something like K304 m.II, the marking is 'tempo di menuetto', the meter is 3/4 and the form is a rondo. If it were a simple binary minuet, it would usual get a title of 'minuet', since it's a rondo it isn't titled 'minuet' and marked 'temp di menuetto.' I've assumed the switch of labels mostly reflected the form. I think I've seen the same with forms like an andante with variations given 'tempo di menuetto' instead of simply 'minuet.' Feb 15, 2019 at 17:28

'Three-quarter time' is in common use. Being three quarters of a full bar - that being recognised by some as 4/4, aka common time.

  • You know what I'm going to say :-), "what about 3/8 time, then?" Feb 15, 2019 at 12:42
  • @CarlWitthoft - waited for it! Sorry, I can't use stateside logic for that one...Can you?
    – Tim
    Feb 15, 2019 at 12:47
  • I assume there are also Scherzos in a 3/8. In my opinion the OP is asking for a term of all threesome measures, regardless if quarters or eighths. If not Tim's answer would be the only possible one. Feb 15, 2019 at 14:57
  • I've seen at least one scherzo in 3/8 time: the 2nd movement of Ludwig Schuncke's Piano Sonata in G Minor, Op. 3.
    – Dekkadeci
    Feb 15, 2019 at 16:52

What terms do people use to refer to music with 3 beats per measure?

as I am some one of those who you’re probably mentioning with people I can tell you how some of those people could differ music compositions in a 3/4 measure from the waltz:

Minuet or Scherzo


the menuet is also a dance in 3/4 and a section in most of the suites and early sonatas and later was replaced by the scherzo in sonatas, concertos and symphonies.

I have heard the term "waltz beat" and "triple meter"

The waltz is a 3/4 where the beats are counted in a certain manner, almost syncopated. So I used as conductor of orchestras, brassbands or choirs to explain in what style they should perform the piece:

rather like a waltz!

not like a waltz, but rather as a menuet or scherzo.

but are there other (not necessarily professional) terms?

yes, there are also other terms (professional and non professional ones) most characterisizing a dance like Englisch Waltz, Mazurka or Sarabande.

As I am also one of those people I would introduce as umbrella term for all these 3/4 measures:

a threesome but why not a ternary?

Well, triple meter will be the most populary used term, but as you were asking for other terms that people use to refer to music with 3 beats ... I don't know any others than those that I and people in my surrounding are using. And if you say a threesome those who think about sex would have something to laugh about, and you will have them on your side, one of the most important things for a conductor. (maybe you will also have a few against you...)

  • I would respectfully disagree. Menuets are usually but not always in 3, and Scherzos can be in any meter. Those terms apply to speed and mood but not meter. Feb 15, 2019 at 12:41
  • @CarlWitthoft - the minuet was/is a dance. As such, it must remain in its 3 time. I know people dance the waltz as if it was 4 - I've watched them from the stage! But minuet =3. It has to. And since scherzo was a joke emanating from minuet, that also started at least as 3. Can't say that either term is applicable to speed. Not seen on any metronomes?
    – Tim
    Feb 15, 2019 at 12:55
  • Carl Witthoft at least is reasoning his downvote. I don't know any scherzo that isn't in a 3/4. But I don't know everything. The scherzo, as most commonly known today, developed from the minuet, and gradually came to replace it as the third (sometimes second) movement in symphonies, string quartets, sonatas, and similar works. It traditionally retains the triple meter time signature and ternary form of the minuet, but is considerably quicker. It is often, but not always, of a light-hearted nature. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scherzo Feb 15, 2019 at 14:44
  • I removed my downvote -- but I would warn that "not all 3/4 are menuets or scherzos" -- sorry; I've been deep into Boolean Logic coding today. Feb 15, 2019 at 14:45
  • 1
    @CarlWitthoft - I sympathise with you. Always had a bad feeling about coding. And logic's not all it's cracked up to be. Ask my wife. 'Not all 3/4 are minuets and scherzos', but all minuets and scherzos are 3/4. Like not all dogs are papillons, but all papillons are dogs..?
    – Tim
    Feb 15, 2019 at 15:37

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