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Playing in a jazz band there are often 5,6 or 8 silence bars. This is no problem as I can count it with my fingers. But how do you count bigger numbers of silence bars, e.g. 52, 112 or even more in classical pieces?

What techniques do you have in order to count large numbers of silence bars?

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5 Answers 5

In an orchestral situation, it is a terrible idea to rely on the conductor - they may not be able to cue you or instead are going to give a more important cue. Just because you are not playing does not mean you're allowed to sit and wait for a bus. Scores that have been edited well will have "cues" written in the parts, so, say you zone out accidentally or lose your place after 200 measures, you see the cue for an oboe solo in your part and you know where you are.

Also, here are a couple good habits to get into:

  • raise a finger or flick your leg each time you get to a rehearsal mark - this is a great way to keep a section together (trombones in Mahler, for example.)

  • when counting measures, give one number to the entire measure, and take the measure's duration to say the number to yourself. Ex: Ooonnnnneeeee Twwwooooooo Threeeeee etc etc. Counting this way greatly reduces counting confusion.

  • Like others have mentioned - listen to others around you; know what they are doing. Just like in a play, it's good to know everyone's lines around your lines so that if someone else screws up you're still good to go.

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1  
I find it easier to count "one,two,three; two,two,three; three,two,three,..." to keep track of both the beat and the measure count. –  Carl Witthoft Feb 19 at 13:15
    
@CarlWitthoft - that type of counting is better than others, but quickly becomes impractical with fast tempi, asymmetrical time signatures, or large spans of rests. It also increases the chance of getting verbally tripped up by having to keep track of so many numbers. –  jjmusicnotes Feb 19 at 13:58
    
Well, sure, just count once per Presto measure; and if you've got varying time sigs then just restart the count. Maybe it's 'cause I'm in that group of (musician && mathematician) that big numbers don't bother me :-) –  Carl Witthoft Feb 19 at 15:32

In an orchestra, let the conductor do the work for you - they should let you know your moment is coming.

In a smaller group, say a string quartet, you wouldn't expect such long rests (after all, you're 25% of the ensemble) - but learn what the other parts sound like and use that to time your return. So instead of "Now I count 64 bars", it's "I'll come back in after the third repetition of the main melody".

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Part one is badbadbad, see jjmusicnotes' answer. Part two is good for any ensemble: if there aren't cuenotes in your part, go ahead and write them in. –  Carl Witthoft Feb 19 at 13:14

Adding to Dom's answer, the key is often in listening for cues in other people. Find out what other parts are doing around the time you come back in and before, so you can listen for that sign that you're about to come back in.

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@slim I am ashamed that such a mistake could slip by me! Queue the depressing music ;D –  Alexander Troup Feb 19 at 8:36

You don't actually have to count every bar that you don't play especially if you go many bars without playing anything. Most large form pieces and even Jazz pieces are broken down into smaller parts i.e. an A section, a B section, C section, ect. So you could have sections A, B, and C be 32 bars each and you many not start playing until 4 bars into section C and instead of just counting 68 bars you could listen for the start of the C section and then count 4 bars.

If you know the song inside and out you may not even need to count the 4 bars you may just be able to "feel" when you come in.

Also the conductor in an orchestra will cue the instruments coming in as it is what they do.

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I count bars 1-2-3-4 2-2-3-4 3-2-3-4 etc. in my head and simultaneously keep track on my fingers. Each finger denotes 1, thumb denotes 5, so I can count up to nine on one hand. So with two hands I can keep count up to 99. Major benefit of this is that I can multi-task - I keep counting whilst picking up mutes, pointing at music and so on. After a while you can preset a count, so if the conductor says start at bar 8 you put down thumb and three fingers and start counting from there.

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