Counting Beats with Fractions

Friday, February 23, 2007

So far, all the notes we have counted have lasted one or more beats. Often, however, more than one note occupies a beat, and we have to have a way to count this. For instance, in 4/4 time the beats are counted in quarter notes, so the eighth note will only last a half beat. Here is the way that this is usually counted:
One Two and Three Four The pulse of the one-two-three-four remains even, but the “and” introduces another syllable between the main beats. Groups of faster notes are usually joined together with a thicker line known as a beam, which makes them easier to recognize. The number of beams corresponds to the number of flags on individual notes. Eighth notes have a single flag, so they are connected as shown below. Try counting and playing these combinations:

Now here is a song for counting practice. Notice that it does not begin on the first note of a measure, but in fact on an unstressed “pickup” note that is the last beat of an incomplete measure. Count “Three” on this, then “One” as usual on the first beat of the following measure.

When a piece begins with an incomplete measure, the balance of the time is made up in the last measure, which here has only two counts. First and last incomplete measures always add up to one complete one.