Robert Estrin - piano expert

Are Pickups Measures?

Learn about the basics of music theory

In this video, Robert talks about pickups, also known as upbeats, lead-ins, or anacrusis. Can they be counted as measures?

Released on December 15, 2021

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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 question today is, are pickups measures? You ever see a piece of music, and let's say a piece is in 3/4 time, and it starts with a quarter note or something of that nature? Is that a measure? What the heck is going on?

For example, in the Beethoven Sonata Opus 49 No. 2, the famous G major Sonata, the second movement, kind of a minuet, it starts off with a dotted eighth and 16th. And then there's a bar line right after it. So this is what it sounds like.

Beautiful, elegant piece. So the question is, are those first two notes, the dotted eighth and 16th, a measure? They're in a box. Well, the piece- the movement is in 3/4 time. So here is the clue to the answer to this question. 3/4 time tells you there are three beats in each measure and the quarter note gets one beat. Since you only have one beat total with a dotted eighth and 16th, this can't possibly be a measure. This is a pickup, sometimes called an anacrucis.

A pickup is simply a beat before the first measure which follows the pickup. So indeed it's after that first bar line, that is the first measure, not the pickup notes. And when learning a piece that starts with pickups, each phrase starts on the third beat and ends on the second beat. So continuing on from where we left off.

So once again, it starts on the third beat. So the whole piece is kind of juxtaposition starting with three. Now, here's the interesting thing that you may have noticed in any pieces that have pickups: almost always the pieces end to make up the time from the beginning. So indeed, if you look at the end of this movement of this Beethoven Sonata, it only has two beats in that measure. And yes, that is considered a measure. Even though it only has two beats because it starts with a pickup on the third beat and ends on the second beat. So listen to how it ends and you will listen to how it ends first. Then I'm going to say something interesting.

Now, I could actually loop it back to the beginning. Now this doesn't repeat. Although sometimes, you will have repeated sections with da capos or repeat signs that will repeat with the pickup. And you'll have a partial measure at the end and the pickup at the beginning. And it all works seamlessly. So watch what happens if I just end this and then start right from the beginning again.

So it goes right back to the beginning.

Three-one-two. Three-one-two. Three-one-two. Three-one-two. Three-one-two.

So that's the way pickups work. Remember, pickups are not measures. The first measure comes after the bar line. If you don't have a complete measure, even if it's two beats out of four, those would be two pickups, two beat pickups. So if you don't have a complete measure at the very beginning of a piece after the time signature, that is considered a pickup. And take a look at the last measure of a piece that starts off without enough beats, and nine times out of 10, it's made up for in the last measure. Interesting little fact for you there.

And you count that note at the beginning backwards from the first measure. That's why the first note of this movement would be counted as three, not one. You don't have two ones in a row. You know that after the bar line is the first beat. So backwards from three from one is three.

Three-one-two. Three-one-two. Three-one-two. Three-one-two.

And then again, it repeats.

Three-one-two, three-one-two, three-one-two, three-one-two.

So that's all you need to know about pickups. I hope that's cleared things up for some of you. I'm sure a lot of you are already well aware of this, but I thought I'd make this video in case there's any confusion for anybody. Again, I'm Robert Estrin. This is LivingPianos.com, your online piano resource. Lots of interesting things coming this year for you that you've never seen before. Thank you for joining me. We'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Claire * VSM MEMBER * on December 15, 2021 @10:03 am PST
Thank you, Robert! This also helps clarify something I have discussed with the other members of my piano trio. When a score does not have numbers indicating the measures, we sometimes pencil them in. Occasionally, during practice, when we find out our numbering is "off", it's because one of us has considered the pick-up the first measure. That won't happen again, thanks to you!
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Robert - host, on December 15, 2021 @10:46 am PST
This should help! Repeat signs and DC's and DS's can still offer challenges for you!

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