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Can anyone help with counting beats and bars?


Well-Known Member
peterborough uk
.can anyone advise on counting i am doing great with my teacher my sight reading is getting good i understand the value of all the notes and rests .But i am being held back as i cant count lol .I do have a metronome but how do you follow and read the music and count the bars at the same time.Any help would be great. Hope you are all well Tom.

I know exactly where you are saying... the biggest leap for me was joining a community concert band, 9 months in have improved both sight reading & timing - cheap & 3 1/2 hours of playing per week... plus gigs... I have a website listing bands/regions somewhere but Google & I'm sure you could find one local..

What is it you find hard?

If it is simply counting the rests,make sure you have the beat in your head and count the rests (in 4/4 time a 2 bar rest would be: 1234, 2234). Remember the number underneath gives you the value of one beat (4 = crotchet, 8 = quaver, etc). The note above tells you how many beats in a bar. Sometimes it is easier to count according to natural rythym, e.g. 6/8 is usually counted in two with each beat having a triplet, hence two triplets equal the 6. That is the basic simplistic version. To aid the counting either count out aloud (when alone) or tap your foot or count in your head and use fingers to count off the bars (my usual technique when long rests).

If the problem is working out rythym within a piece or where a note falls within a beat I find the easiest way is to sit down with the piece and work out where the beats go and mark it in in pencil. Sometimes it is easier to then sub-divide the beat and simply work it out that way.

Don't be afraid to use a pencil to note down anything that helps you remember the rythym or timing. In our Orchestra the other night one of the clarinetists was having trouble with the rythym of a section and simply wrote above it die-di, die-di, die-di, etc to remind her of what it should sound like. Our director (who had written the piece) questionned why bother with writing note lengths if in future all he has to do is write down words to indicate the rythym :)

Hope this helps


You are not alone. Rhythm really bugs me. I simply do not hear any beat in my head when playing. :(

I know what the note lengths are written as, but can't get the shape of the music first (or subsequent) time. Once I listen to it a couple of times I''m OK(ish) - my mind seems to feel more comfy worring about the fingers and notes when it doesn't have to worry about the rhythm.

I suspect a teacher can find it hard to understand. Knows people can have the difficulty but may never had the problem themself. Mine will take a pencil, divide up the bar, write counts all over the score - makes not a blind bit of difference. The problem is not not knowing what it says. I know intellectually exactly what the notes say. I can tell people, I can write it down, just can't hear in my head how it should sound, so can't play it. Metronome makes it worse. Tapping the foot sometimes helps. Slogging away at it very slowly can help a lot.

I'm told it will eventually come with practice. Been over three years now and I'm still waiting, and envious of those folk who seem to pick it up instinctively.

For band I sometimes cheat by typing the notes into finale, hear how it goes and can then play it. First night when they hand the stuff out and try a run through on sight - I'm a complete disaster.

As said by others a (training) band will help, because you hear hints from those around you. As you play through stuff you get to know how it ought to sound and begin to link this to the page in front of you.

Keep plugging away and it will come to you. You'll probably 'get it' before I do.
Hi all and thanks.Ok well its hard for me to explain.But I can hear he the beat i can follow the music BUT i cant tap my foot as i will start 1234 2234 and then loose it and cant concetrate on the solo because of the counting and its driving me mad i need to do this i need to get this into my head.Is there anyone who has over come this type of problem. thanks again Tom.
If it's any consolation Tom, I too find it difficult to count the beat, read the dots and work the fingers :shocked:

Like a lot of us, once (or twice, three times) I have heard the peice I can usually get the rhythm but not just sight reading.

My teacher said try tapping your foot to a regular beat without thinking about it, then change the beat to faster or slower and maintain the speed; easier said than done :(

He did say that it takes practice and like most things some find it easy, others find it hard.

Good luck, and if you hit on a fool proof method let us all know ;}
its a bit like driving or riding a bike...eventually its something you do without thinking about it ( i`m not advocating driving without due care and attention ..but i`m sure you know what i mean)....its the very fact of thinking about it that makes it so difficult to do....pick a tune you know pretty well and play that, trying to keep the timing as you play..you`ll find that because you know it you wont think about counting so much....i know its an old cliche but it really is all about practice practice practice
Find a tune you know but are having difficulty with. Try tapping the beat with a finger on the table (not too hard - you don't want to hurt yourself!) and sing out rythym. Do it half speed and then speed up until you have the sense of the rythym and timing. Writing with a pencil above the tough bits with anything that will help you to count correctly in your head or get the rythym right is OK.

Sit down with a piece of music you know well and simply listen to it with the music in front of you to see how the sound and the written notation go together. Then tap along and sing out the rythym.

Then get the music in the correct key and play along.

Playing with others in any form of group or with an accompanist (a friend playing piano or guiter) really helps.
Have been having a similar problem. Using a metronome helps me a lot. Don't want to become dependant on it, though, but at least I can get the feel for what's written better by concentrating on the note lengths as I play.
Gosh, counting. I am still very crap at it.... I am getting better but I have a very bad habit of not being able to play the rhythm that I am meant to and tend to play in time with the melody rather than what I should be playing, or off-beats end up back on on-beats etc. It's all a nightmare for me and I feel for you! I think some people are better at multi-tasking- my brain seems hard wired to one task only.
I agree with pretty much everyone above. It is very common for rhythm to be one of the most difficult things to get your head round. This is especially true if you are used to playing alone. If one is used to playing in an orchestrated ensemble one's rhythm improves greatly. But what really sorts the men from the boys is playing in a horn section. You have to be bang on!. Try listening to Tower of Power, the Youngblood Brass Band and especially Antibalas. I have been rubbish my whole life, but just recently have felt a major improvement. I know others have mentioned very similar things above, but these have really helped me over the last year:

1 - Always, always tap your foot. So many people think it is not necessary or a sign of weakness. There really is no better way of internalising the groove of a piece (unless your dancing, which I sometimes do instead). In a masterclass the saxophonist taking the class saw i was struggling an insisted i always tap. This includes when you are listening to all music , on your iPod, in the lift, on your stereo.

2 - The above tapping will also give you a strong sense of structure. Most blues based tunes in Pop, rock, jazz, funk etc seem to work of 4, 8, 12 and 16 bar sections. The listener's internal (often sub-concious) appreciation of these musical sections is what allows the musician to play with tension and release and the 'emotional satisfaction' this provides the listener. Anticipating these sections will become instinctive after a while, something that drummers are particularly good at.

3 - Using a music "slow downer" to practice faster pieces really helps you to stick to the beat (with foot tapping) and as you slowly increase the speed the beat is internalised very well.

4 - Transcribing solos or any piece of music really very quickly helps you appreciate rhythmic structures and with one of those cool computer programmes like NoteWorthy, you can often play back what you've written and check it is correct.

5 - When ever i have a spare minute e.g. on the bus when I don't have my sax, I practice rhythms. The way I do it is to keep a constant 4/4 tapping my foot, and then slap my thigh to various beats. I start with the same as my foot 4/4, then move to eighth notes (two slaps for one tap), then triplets, then sixteenths, the back to triplets, back to eighths, then to 4/4 again. I do this a few times and then try out various different patterns, but repeat each made up pattern at least 4 times before making a new pattern. All the time keeping the foot tapping 4/4. If there is music playing at the same time this can be even more fun, and is a form of improvising without your instrument. What is even better is instead of thigh slapping, using your tongue and doing te-te-te-te or te-ke-te-ke.
When you do have your instrument practice the same thing with tonguing on a single note.

6 - Playing with a horn section, especially of the funk or ska or R&B/Soul variety really really helps your rhythm control, it starts to happen automatically after a while. As a warm up every rehearsal and to get us to really listen to each other and keep rhythm, we do this. We stand in a circle and put on rhythm backing like Jamy Abersolds Blues in all keys, pick a key and then one person starts a 12 bar section with a very simple riff. Maybe only 3 or 4 notes. Then the rest of us play the same (the notes being the same is not so important (we often accidentally harmonise within the key). What is important is that we are rythmically identical and in unison (sound like one instrument). After one 12-bar round the next person makes up a very simple riff and so on. After a few weeks the complexity of the rythm can increase. EVRYONE SHOULD BE TAPPING THEIR FEET!!!!;}

These things have really helped me in the last year, maybe see if any of them work for you.
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al can i just say a big thank you for taking so much time and effort into your answer i will print it off and heed your advice if you listen to my youtube you can hear my problem i have just recorded "Lanta Lucia but i did it without backing its romeo011 on youtube thanks again Tom.
Hi all and thanks.Ok well its hard for me to explain.But I can hear he the beat i can follow the music BUT i cant tap my foot as i will start 1234 2234 and then loose it and cant concetrate on the solo because of the counting and its driving me mad i need to do this i need to get this into my head.Is there anyone who has over come this type of problem. thanks again Tom.

Tom, I don't understand why you need to count the bars whilst you are playing. That is normally only done with several bars of rest. Or do i misunderstand.

Secondly you need to develope an internal clock. How much music do you lisyen to? I suggest you listen to something everyday. Jazz, rock and roll, classical anything. Listen to the beat/rhythm. Listen to the drum or bass. Count out loud in the car. This may help it to sink in. It will I promise.
Hi yes i do listen to music aloti have even started to sleep with my ipod on and count myself to sleep[true] lol.What i ment by counting is eg jazz grade 1/2 you play the head for about 16 bars then about 12 bars impro/solo then back to the tune again.Well i find it hard to count my way through the solo so as to come in on time to stat the tune again.I must say it is getting better.I just lose count in my head as i am ting to count and concentrate on the playing.Sorry your now more cnfused than ever cheers Tom as I said if you look at my youtube vids you will hear what i mean i am just not in time its youtube and just type in romeo011 thanks again Tom.:sax:
Ok try this.

make your impro phrases four bars long. If you have 16 bars to solo you just do 4 phrases. Counting to four is easier.

I am sure you listen to people soloing over 12 bar blues. Thats what they are doing. 'Call' for 4 bars, 'respond' over 4 bars, then 4 bars to finish. Start again at the top.

You may have to work out a four bar lick before you play but it may help.

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