How do I count this example in syncopation? I am having a hard time understanding.

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6 Answers 6


I recommend a three-stage process for examples like this one:

First, articulate a smaller note value throughout the example; this is akin to finding the "greatest common factor" in math, and it's what we call subdivision. Since we have mostly eighth notes, let's turn each quarter note into two articulated eighth notes:

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Then, let's tie together any eighth notes that are quarter notes in the original example. (We can do this because a quarter note is equivalent in duration to two eighth notes.)

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And believe it or not, the above example is functionally equivalent to your notated example. The only thing left is to conceptualize it as notated:

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This is another way to write it:

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In case it's unclear: if you encounter two notes connected with a tie, you play the first one, and you keep holding it also for the duration of the second note. So in practice two tied notes are a single note, as it was notated in the example you provided.


A slightly different way from the existing answers.

Because '&' is associated with an unstressed beat, and some of those &s are stressed, I'd go for a full count - the smallest notes are quavers, so with eight of them, each has a number.

1 2 (3) 4 5 6 (7) 8 counts the first bar. Bracketed numbers are said, but no note gets played on them. Not showing well are the italicised 2 and 6 which are the accented notes. Play them slightly louder, after all, they need to last a bit longer than the others!

This always worked better for me as a kid, and still does the job !


@Richard's answer explains it, but I want to add one suggestion. In addition to performing the count 1 & & 3 & & also combine it with counting the even beats.

You can count aloud just the beats 1 2 3 4 while playing the 1 & & 3 & & rhythm. This helps for playing two independent rhythms. Also, a bit of a subtle difference, counting only the 1 and 3 can start to feel like a two event pattern, while counting 1 2 3 4 beats reinforces it's four events.

The 1 & & 3 & & count I especially think of in terms of up and down strokes where I wave my hand up and down at the eighth note level and the numbers are down strokes and the & are up strokes. If I do that audible counting and hand waving, I mentally note the "silent" downstrokes of my hand on beats 2 and 4. So, you would audibly count 1 & & 3 & &, your hand would downstoke 1 2 3 4, and you focus on mentally counting the 2 and 4.

  • You could do the same idea using 4 down and 4 upstrokes while strumming a guitar - missing the strings on beats 2 and 4.
    – Tim
    Feb 24, 2021 at 16:27
  • @Tim, Absolutely! For the OP's example you could strum a C chord, tap your foot to the beat, and sing the 1& &3& & count. Feb 24, 2021 at 18:29

Split the bar in 2 equal parts: if you know how to count one syncopation 1 a_2 a (whereby a 2 is tied together) you are able to count similar the second half 3 a_4 a.

To build up a good feeling for this rhythm motif you can start with one syncopation pattern followed by 2 fourth notes, like you may know from popular songs e.g.

Sloop John B.

Tom Dooley

Le petit Nègre (Debussy)

The Entertainer



  • 3
    Too simple for you? :-)
    – Laurence
    Feb 23, 2021 at 22:24
  • 2
    This does answer the question, specifically, and shows what dvs can do, with no comments.
    – Tim
    Feb 24, 2021 at 18:49
  • 1
    SE prefers simple answers to be wrapped up in some waffle. I disagree! An even clearer answer might be an aural demonstration. Perhaps I'll add one.
    – Laurence
    Feb 24, 2021 at 19:56
  • 2
    This is a very good practical example of how to count this syncopation. If you do not actually say the lowercase 2 and 4, they will tend to get shorted. The other examples are very good at explaining the theory. Also consider that many musicians feel the first and second & as anticipating the 2 and the 4.
    – Gordon B.
    Feb 24, 2021 at 21:01
  • 1
    This answer lacks context and explanation hence why there has been downvotes so heavily. Saying how you count it doesn't show how someone got there and how to break it down like other answers. There's no further understanding and the OP won't be able to apply it to anything else like you could with other answer. Giving an answer with no explanation doesn't help people who don't know how to get there.
    – Dom
    Feb 25, 2021 at 1:17

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