Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Figure Out Rhythms: Counting

Basic rhythm tip of the week: counting.

In this video, Robert approach an essential tip for playing with a perfect rhythm: counting.

Released on February 9, 2022

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to livingpianos.com, I'm Robert Estrin. The subject today is how to count rhythms. It's essential to count rhythm so you know the timing of a piece of music and there's lots that we can talk about here. The fundamental number one is there are times signature which tells you how to count a piece in the first place. Now what's this whole counting about?

Well, if you ever look at a carpenter that you usually will have a tape measure right on their belt and they're checking their work constantly measuring. Well, the way we measure in music is by counting. Otherwise you're just guessing at what the rhythm is.

Maybe you've got a good sense of rhythm and you can listen to recordings, and you can get an idea of what the rhythm is like, but how do you know the recordings are even right? And suppose it's a piece and you can't find recordings of? At some point or another you want to be able to figure out rhythms and counting is the answer for that.

So first you look at the time signature. Our quick refresher on time signatures, those are the two numbers of the beginning of your piece of music. The top number tells you how many beats are in each measure, and the bottom number stands for the kind of note getting one beat. So if the bottom number is a four, that stands for the quarter note getting one beat. If the bottom number is a two, the half note gets one beat. If the bottom number is an eight, the eighth note gets one beat. If the bottom number's a one, the whole note gets one beat. So that's what the bottom number tells you.

So you take a piece of music. For example, let's say you had a piece of music in 4/4 time. So you would count it one, two, three four, one, two, three four. So if you had quarter notes in 4/4 time, it would be one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four.

If you had half notes, you would count exactly the same way and here is the rule number one. Never change the style of counting within a piece of music. The counting must remain consistent. That's how it measures accurately. Imagine if you had a tape measure that had inches marked and in other places had multiples of six inches marked and didn't have the inches marked anymore. It'd be very hard to figure it out. So the half notes, you would count the same way, but the half notes get two beats in 4/4 time. So you'd have one two, three four, one two, three four, and a whole note of course get four beats, one two three four, one two three four.

Now stay with me because we're going to get a lot more complex very quickly. I just want to hit the fundamentals because everything builds from the fundamentals and if you understand those, the rest of it will be a breeze for you.

So a very simple thing like Mary Had a Little Lamb, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four, one two three four.

Very simple, but most music isn't quite so simple. Is it? What do you do if you have eighth notes in 4/4 time or in 3/4 time for that matter? Now the eighth note, there are two eighth notes in each quarter note and the quarter note gets one beat. So an eighth note gets half a beat. How do you count half beats by saying and, so the piece in 3/4 time, one and two and three, and one and two and three, and one and two and three, et cetera.

So I'm going to go ahead and play the beginning of Bach's Minuet in G, counting out loud in this manner, one and two and three, and one and two and three, and one and two and three, and one and two and three, and one and two and three, and one and two and three, and one and two and three, and one and two and three, and one.

So you know exactly where all the notes come in. Now what about if yes 16th notes and you're in 2/4 time let's say. So now there are four 16th notes to each beat and you must divide the beat into four parts. Well, you already divided it in half so you just need to divide the halves in half, and for that you use ah, one ah and ah two ah and a one ah and ah two ah and a. So, if you were in 2/4 time and you had 16th notes, it would be one ah and ah two ah and a one ah and ah two ah and a.

If you add eighth notes, it would be one ah and ah two ah and a one ah and ah two ah and a. Notice the eighth notes still come in where they did before, on the numbers and the ands. Likewise, the quarter notes come in where they've always come in before on the numbers, one ah and ah two ah and a one ah and ah two ah and a.

Of course you could have half notes which would get the whole measure, one ah and ah two ah and a one ah and ah two ah and.

I'm going to utilize Arabesque of Burgmuller to show you how this works. One ah and ah two ah, and ah one ah and ah two ah, and ah one ah and ah two ah, and ah one ah and ah two ah, and ah one ah and ah two ah, and ah one ah and ah two ah, and ah one ah and ah two ah, and ah one ah and ah two ah, and ah one ah and ah two ah, and ah one ah and ah two ah, and ah one ah and ah two ah, and ah one ah and ah two ah, and ah.

Now you can see that can come a real mouthful. As long as your counting remains consistent, you could count just with the ands. One and two and one and two and one and two and one and two, and one and two and one and two, and one and two and one and two, and one and two and one and two, and.

So, in order to figure out exactly what the rhythm is, first you count with all the subdivisions. But if something goes faster you might just think the subdivisions while counting. You can even count one, one, two, one, two, one, two, one, two, one, two, one, two, one, two, one, two, one, two, one, two.

But you must always think the subdivisions particularly in dotted rhythms when you have a one ah and ah two ah and ah one ah and ah two ah and. If something's going fast, you want the precision of the subdivisions. So my advice to you is when first working out rhythms, count with all the subdivisions. Then as you get faster, think the subdivisions and you can count with less verbiage either just with ands or just the numbers. Eventually work with a metronome and just hear those subdivisions in your head.

Of course sometimes you have triple divisions and counting that is a little different story. Something in 6/8 time is one two three four five six, one two three four five six, which end up being one two, one two, one. So there are different aspects and you know polyrhythms, things get a little bit different and you have really quick notes. Sometimes what I recommend is to write in lines in your music where the numbers and the ends lie so you know where to aim, so you know which notes land with which other notes in the other hand.

But that's a subject for another video, those complex rhythmic situations. For most rhythms simply counting them out is the answer for you. I hope this is helpful for you, clarified some things for some people, or was a good primer for everybody to remember to count your music. There's nothing worse than listening to somebody play something where the beats are not consistent. You lose the whole vibrancy in the foundation of the new music. So counting is great and if you can figure out any rhythm.

Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at livingpianos.com, the online piano resource. Thanks for subscribing as well and ringing the bell.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Meera on April 27, 2022 @3:31 pm PST
Super lesson for anyone learning to count rhythms. I do make lines for the beats, especially if playing syncopated rhythms.
reply
Fabrizio Ferrari - moderator and CEO, on April 27, 2022 @3:47 pm PST
Glad you liked it Meera! Thank you for your comment
Bablok Artur on February 9, 2022 @6:57 am PST
Danke - richtiges, genaues Zählen ist mein Schwachpunkt als Amateur. Metronom macht mich wütend und verrückt. Ich werde Ihre Anleitung sorgsam befolgen.
reply
Robert - host, on February 9, 2022 @7:30 am PST
Thanks for your comment: "Thanks - correct, accurate counting is my weak point as an amateur. Metronome drives me mad! I will follow your instructions carefully."

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