I'm a singer with a decent voice and technique, I also used to play the violin so I can read classical sheet music and sight-read pretty well. However, I've always struggled with counting.

I have no problem when I sing or play in a choir or orchestra, if I know a song well I can sing along with no problem, but singing solo with no sheet music to look at is always a challenge.

I'm a visual learner, I memorize things in pictures, so if I have classical(treble clef) sheet music to look at I can memorize the piece by visualising the tempo and remembering the notes that comes before I have to start singing, it also makes it easier for me to hear the notes and count when I have a visual idea. When there's no sheet music however, I can get a sense on when to sing and a good idea of the tempo by feel but tend to start singing either a few seconds too soon or a few seconds too late. Currently I'm trying to learn a song, there's no sheet music for it so I have to rely purely on my ear, I know when to start and stop, but often goes off beat in the middle. I can sing along with the original version with perfect ease, when I sing on my own with just the melody it sounds good, but as soon as I match my recording with the original I hear myself going off beat either starting too early or too late.

Here's the original version:

My recording:


Sound pretty good right? Until I put it with the original:


As you can see I get a good sense of when to sing, except I either start off good but goes off beat in the middle, or I start or stop a few seconds too soon or too late.

Would really appreciate some advice on what to do.


3 Answers 3


If the song has a constant tempo you can easily set a metronome and sing with it going, or tap your foot to the time. However, if the song doesn't have a constant tempo because it is being played live, then it is liable that one of the instruments, at least, is being played along as the singer sings. This technique means that the instrument and the singer and reading each other (or the instrument following the singer). in this case it may be best to sing with the present singer, recording each little phrase at a time, practicing the small sections, and recording, as you go, when u get each one right. However, with timing, tapping your foot is very often the answer, when you can get use to doing that as you perform.


I would suggest some counting exercises that should help with feeling the down beat.

  1. Turn on a metronome on a phone, and set it to a very slow tempo—something like 50bpm. For about 20 seconds, count the beats along with the metronome. Without stopping the metronome, mute your phone, and continue counting each beat in your mind. After about 30 seconds, turn up the volume on your phone, and see if you are still in sync with the metronome. If you are still in sync, increase the amount of time the metronome is muted. If you're out of sync, this exercise should help you determine if you are naturally too fast or too slow.

  2. Try the same exercise again, but this time replace the metronome with the song you're learning. Instead of counting the beat, count the first beat of every measure.

  3. Lastly, I would try it again, but instead of counting, sing along with the original recording. Try to mute the song while you keep singing, and see how long you can stay on beat.


Overall the recording is not terribly bad. When interpreting a song typically your goal isn't to replicate the original performance (well, unless you really want to study someone's individual style), so small differences are normal.

It seems to me that in several places you start your phrases too early. It's worth to note that later you come back on track and fix it. This makes me think that you don't have a problem with feeling the beat, but rather with understanding the rhythm in these particular places. The rhythm is syncopated and I imagine it might be confusing.

Two ways to fix it: one would be to sing these places with the original recording, trying to replicate that rhythm. Second, perhaps giving you a better understanding of what's going on, would be to count the exact rhythm in the recording, and then count it in your head while singing.

It may help you to speak the words, or even some meaningless syllables (like "la la la"), or just tap the rhythm with your hands, so that you can focus on it entirely, without being bothered with vocal technique.

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