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Counting Music

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How should you count music? The rhythm of music is something you feel. Maybe your body moves to the music or you tap your feet or clap your hands. Our words also have a rhythm to them, in poetry especially.

When practicing music, especially when you learn a piece, or if it is tricky, you may need to count the beats in order to keep your place in the music. But if you do need to count, you need to keep the counting and the music rhythmical as you do it. Either you need some other source of rhythm and count in time with that - or you need to make sure that your counting is itself rhythmical.

Counting is an aid to help you feel the rhythm and play in time

We count in different ways. For instance, some people count using numbers as visual symbols, and some count using the sounds of the number words. See Richard Feynmann on thinking and counting (Youtube video extract).

So depending on how you do it, and how easily you can synchronise it with the other things you need to do to play your instrument, you may find it easy or hard to count as you play.

Anyway the counting is an aid to learn the rhythm and find your place in the bar. It is important to be able to do it when you need to, But once you can feel the rhythm, you can drop the counting. There is no need to keep up a "running count" all the time as you play. You know where you are in the rhythm, you feel it, but don't need to count it.

You may feel the rhythm in your body or as visual movement

Many musicians find their body naturally moves slightly with the music as they play, and that can be a way to feel where you are in the bar for instance. Or maybe you think about your position in the bar visually as movement as you play - as a pointer perhaps, or conductor's baton, bouncing balls or whatever. If you do then that's absolutely fine.

You don't need to tap your feet along with the rhythm or anything obvious like that, though that does no harm either if it feels natural (and doesn't disturb others). It is a common way to keep in time in traditional music.

The rhythm needs to be the basic thing, your playing flows with the rhythm rather than the other way around

It is so easy to adjust the tapping to your playing, especially if playing something tricky such as a polyrhythm. The same is true for counting, moving your body, visual imagination or whatever, again it is so easy to adjust these methods to your playing when you reach a tricky passage, and then they become useless as a timing aid.

If you find you do this, then you need to make sure your counting is rhythmical and in time.

This is where a metronome is useful

Instead of relying on the rhythm of your counting, foot taps or whatever, play along with a metronome that counts the beats for you. Or a conducting metronome which shows the beats to you visually. This is where Bounce Metronome Pro can help.

If you find counting distracts you and puts you off the rhythm, then proper use of a metronome gives you a way out of that dilemma. Instead, you can listen to your playing, and let the metronome keep count for you. The visual cues of a conducting metronome are especially helpful as you can see instantly where you are in the bar at any time.

So you no longer need to worry about where you are in the measure. You don't have to keep the count going. This lets you focus all your attention on the main thing, which is to feel the rhythm and to keep exactly in time with the beats.

When the rhythm is internalised, drop use of the conducting metronome

Then once you feel the rhythm of the piece, you can drop the use of the conducting metronome as a way of keeping count of the beats within the bar. It's just a way to help you to feel the rhythm, it's not an end in itself.

Though you can usefully keep returning it to hone your ability to play exactly on the beat (when you want to that is). That's something one can continue to work on even when one can feel the rhythm perfectly - perhaps eventually to within a millisecond or two if you need to - see How to keep exact time.

Get Bounce Metronome Pro

Download your Free Test Drive of Bounce Metronome Pro Now (with free taster metronome yours to keep)! It's easy to use - just choose a preset rhythm and click on the dial to set the tempo - and has many special features to help with your metronome practise.

I also maintain a list of other software and on-line metronomes, which you can find here:

A big list of some of the other metronomes available for Windows - and Online Metronomes

About the author of these pages

I'm Robert Walker, the inventor and programmer for Bounce Metronome Pro. These Many Ways to Use a Metronome pages arise out of the research I did for the program, and feedback from users of the software.

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(By Robert Walker)