Time signature 3/2 Explained

By Jade Bultitude
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The time signature 3/2 is a well known meter in classical music, and it’s occasionally used in popular music. 3/2 contains measures (or bars) that have 3 half-note beats (minims). Music in 3/2 time is often associated with slower pieces with a three count.

We’re going to dive straight into 3/2 time, but you can find more info on what a time signature is in our complete guide to meters.

What is Time Signature 3/2?

The time signature or meter of 3/2 is shown in the music as a 3 above a 2.

time signature 3/2

This comes before the music starts but after the clef and key signature. The ‘3’ stands for 3 beats per measure and the ‘2’ tells us that each beat is a half note (minim). This means that the notes in each measure will add up to 3 half notes.

See if you can spot the three half note beats in this line of music.

two measure in 3:2 time signature

Now here it is with the beats labelled.

two bars in 3:2 time signature with beats labelled

How to count in 3/2

3/2, like all meters, has a distinctive feel to it. The piece below contains more complex rhythms with a variety of note lengths. However, it would still be counted in three half-note beats.

We count 3/2 as 1…&…2…&…3…&… Can you spot where each beat falls?

Now here it is with the beats added in.

3/2 is a Simple, Triple Time Signature

There are three broad types of time signature: simple, compound and irregular. Simple time signatures have strong beats that divide into two. Compound time signatures have strong beats that divide into three and irregular time signatures have a mixture of beats.

In 3/2, each beat is a half note (minim) and therefore can be divided into TWO quarter notes (crotchets). This makes 3/2 a Simple Time Signature. It is a Triple time signature because there are THREE half-note beats in each measure. To learn more about the differences check out our ultimate guide to time signatures.

The notes below show how each half-note beat in 3/2 time can be divided into two quarter notes (crotchets).

3:2 showing three half notes broken into six quarter notes

Songs with a 3/2 Time Signature

Handel – Sarabande

Bach – Prelude if Eb minor (BWV 853)

What’s the difference between 3/2 and 3/4?

3/2 time has three half-note beats per measure and is counted as 1…&…2…&…3…&… 3/4 also has three strong beats per measure, but these are quarter notes. 3/4 time has three quarter notes per measure.

So when would we use 3/2 and when would we use 3/4? Roughly speaking, we use 3/2 for slower pieces and 3/4 for slightly quicker pieces. Now this is not a strict rule, but it holds for most classical music. In the end, it is up to composers how they want to notate their music.

3:2 meter compared to 3:4 meter

What next…?

If you want to learn more about time signatures, check out our complete guide to meters.

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AUTHOR
Jade is an experienced musician and teacher as well as being the founder of Music Theory Foundations. She has been helping people learn music theory for more than 10 years from pre school children all the way to degree level studies.

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