Counting Rhythm Patterns


A vital skill in being able to keep time is being able to count rhythm patterns. Let's look at a how a piece in 4/4 time, made of just crotchets, would be counted:

4/4 crotchets

This is straight forward enough. Each beat is counted in turn, 1-2-3-4, starting again at 1 at the start of a bar. Now let's put a pair of quavers on each beat in place of the crotchets:

4/4 quavers

Here the note which lands right on the start of the beat is still counted as a number (the same as for the first example). However, each note lasts for only half as long as in our first example. The second quaver of each pair is counted as an 'and'.

So how do we count a pattern with even more notes on each beat? When we break a beat into semiquavers, the counting scheme gets a bit more complex to match (it also sounds a bit silly, especially when you read this out loud, but trust me - it is a recognised way of counting a rhythm pattern).

4/4 semiquavers

As before the note which lands right on the start of the beat is still counted using a number, and the note which lands half-way through the beat is counted using an 'and'. The other notes on each beat are counted with an 'e' and 'a' respectively.

Finally, let's think about playing fewer/longer notes in a bar. Suppose we had a bar with two minims instead of 4 crotchets:

These notes all land on the start of the beat and so are counted using numbers. As they last for two beats each, then we only need to count 1 and 3.

Of course, it is quite common to find a mix of note lengths in a piece of music. In such cases the counting scheme that we've just seen can simply be mixed and matched to fit the types of notes being used. For example:

4/4 minims

This may all sound a bit weird, especially if you haven't come across the idea of counting like this before. However, it is an important thing to get to grips with, so please do persevere.

Try counting out a few bars using a metronome to help you, and also try this simple exercise. Good luck.

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