Time signatures and counting

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How does one effectively learn how to count properly in any given time signature? I mean with ones that are very awkard and a lot of syncopation is used, and it's at a fast speed. I can do everything fine when you sit down and figure it out, but I want to know how can you learn to do it faster and almost automatically, without having to go, say "Ok that's two demisemiquavers, beat 1 - two quarter rests, that's 2+3..." etc. Actually the time signature itself is not hard for me, it's just SOME pieces where rhythms are quite difficult (and I don't mean easy little pieces, I mean really hard things) and contain rapid sextuplets followed by quadruplets and stuff like that.Thank you for any suggestions!

-- SE (sphinxel@hotmail.com), March 10, 2001


As with anything that's new or you're learning -- you.....take.....it.....slowly. Slow it down to a snails pace, if you need to. Count out loud. I'll count out loud AND use a metronome at times. When you get it right at that speed, increase the pace a little and carry on that way. It will come easier as you become more comfortable with it.

-- Jim Woodside (jdwoodside@hotmail.com), March 13, 2001.

Also, try to feel the big beat (after you've learned the nitty gritty of the little beats). When I'm sightreading, I don't count every beat, I feel the big beat and let all the notes fit between these big beats at the right time. Of course, this takes time and practice, but you can try making up rhythms to practice tapping, playing a piece while counting the bars (don't count each beat, just count the 1st beat of the measure), and listen to music and try to feel the big beats. or conduct. Also, you could find some music in 5/8 and 7/8 time and practice tapping that with the smaller beats, and then with the bigger beats (usually these meters are grouped in bigger beats like 2+3 or 3+2 for 5/8, and it's interesting to see how composers group them differently throughout a piece.) I guess it just takes a lot of listening, and not being too worried about every single little note (tho it is important to understand those beats too). I hope I'm making sense.

-- Julie2 (knerr@uiuc.edu), March 17, 2001.


my constant search for interesting stuff on the web made me stumble on this message board only a few days ago. I am teaching piano in one of the many community music schools in Sweden, and when I saw this question about "Time signatures and counting", I thought the following might be of interest:

when counting aloud we are all used to using cardinal numbers ,adding an extra syllable as the case may be, ("one two three-and"). Some five years ago I discovered - quite by chance - that we may be better of using ordinals ("first second third-and"). You may think that this simple shift is of little consequence, but in my experience it makes an over all difference for the better. When I tried this the first time, the student responded unexpectedly well: she got meter/rhythm correct in an instant, she demonstrated a better - more task oriented - concentration, and she gained instantly a better - more egalized - touch. As a concequence I tried this on all my students the following week, and I was quite stunned in registrating the same behavior with them all, regardless of the student´s age, sex, pianistic experience or 'talent'. As a result of this, I made 'training with ordinals' a standing ingredient in all lessons to come (it takes very little time). After some 6 to 8 weeks I was noticing changes in my students behaviour. Practically all the younger students had stopped the very tiresome practice of starting a piece all over if they made a tiny mistake somewhere, students that had a history of 'studder-in-playing' (this is when you play the same key repetedly, even if it was correct in the first place) stopped doing this. Working conditions during lessons improved.

Given that the student fully understands the meaning of "time signature" and "bar" this practice is very straightforward. I belive that ordinals is better because they use numbers in a way that is true to music. Cardinals - really - do not! Cardinals are perfectly OK from a 'scientific' standpoint, but when we are going the opposite way (from 'science' to music) they make little good (if any). Ordinals are 'true to music' because they reveal the temporal order of events (when you are "in second" you have an instant 'awereness' of having been "in first" and that "a third" (or a "new first") must come.

The assistance of a Swedish psychologist (Guy Madison, Uppsala) have made it possible for me to make a small study of this method. So far the study have proved me right; the difference between using cardinals and using ordinals is - in some respects - messurable with statistical signifficance. The study is in progress, so there is nothing to read, yet.

I hope that some of this makes sence to you. Please don´t hesitate to mail me if you have questions or comments (I´m on vacation!!!).

I hope my misspellings makes sence, too!

Sören Åslund

-- Sören Åslund (fina_musiken@hotmail.com), June 24, 2001.

I think the most important part of learning rhythms in music is feeling them in your body. So if you're playing in 5, say, try movingyour feet and counting to five and then dancing around in this rhythm. Gradually your body begins to understand and the music is much easier. If you did this and sang the rhythm instead of playing it, or clapped it, or whatever you want, this would be most helpful. Improvising in that meter would helpful as well. I have a student who has trouble with rhythms and meters and is using a jumprope to yell out the rhythms as he goes!

-- Jen Hastings (jenthegiant@yahoo.com), February 17, 2002.

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