Why do jazz and funk musicians count on 2 and 4 beats on a 4/4 beat?

I've noticed that most musicians of other styles count on 1 and 3 or 1,2,3,4.

Is there any advantage in counting on 2 and 4?

  • If the legendary Barry Harris says it's ridiculous to tap on 2 and 4, I'd follow his advice, and stick to 1 and 3. See this video at 03:00 youtu.be/jeWO0vYTmsI
    – user207524
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 16:15
  • The genre of reggae music many times emphasizes the 2 and 4 beat heard often by the guitar strum.
    – ejbpesca
    Commented Jul 8, 2023 at 18:39

7 Answers 7


I don't think it's really an advantage, but more of a stylistic choice. It's like a form of syncopation, only instead of emphasising between the beats of the bar, you're emphasising the weak beats(or between the stressed beats) of the bar.

It's a staple technique of certain genres like Ragtime and Ska, but in the case of Jazz, funk and most other genres it's more something that's occasionally used to add interest and contrast to the music.


It's supposed to mimic the jazz sound of the hi-hat on 2 & 4, and the theory is that learning to play over that kind of counting/tapping is better for your rhythmic awareness and swing feel. It definitely takes more practice. YMMV.


I don't know how it started, but there are a few subtleties about it. As Alexander Troup said, it's stylistic, and it sets the style for the song.

Beats 2 and 4 are equal in weight. The downbeat is always the strongest beat, followed by the third beat. When you count all four you count "ONE two Three four ONE two Three four" with weak and strong beats. Counting on two and four is like "(rest) two (rest) four / (rest) two (rest) four" with two and four being equal in weight.

Additionally, counting on the strong beats gives a feeling of downward motion like a march. We call these beats "downbeats" and "upbeats" for a reason. For most dances, your foot goes down hard on the downbeat. In a jumping dance, you jump up on the upbeat and land on the downbeat. Counting only on the upbeats emphasizes this feeling of upward motion and leaves out the downward motion. As Shevliaskovic said, it makes the song swing, and I think it's the "lift" and the absence of "thud" that does it.


The backbeat (2 & 4) is accented in many types of jazz, but One is still One, and the count-in is still 'One, two, one-two-three-four!' It's a often-quoted truism that the key to Swing is 'knowing where One is'.

In Reggae there is a heavy accent on Four, lesser accents on the second half of each beat - One AND two AND three AND four AND. The first beat may even be un-played! But it's still there, and very important. You can't accent Four unless you know where One is.


I think counting (tapping) on two and four also applies to other forms as well. Country, rockabilly, folk, ska, reggae, and probably other styles. Some people find this easier than others to do this. I find that counting this way makes me play locked into the rhythm of the song, where as when I tap on the strong beats, I tend to float over the tune with no rhythmic emphasis. Uptempo songs also seem to benefit form this style of counting (2 & 4). If the tempo is 200bpm, set the metronome at 100. These beats will imply the 2 & 4. I find when playing these faster tempos in this fashion I never speed-up or slow down.


Counting off a tempo to a jazz band is one of the most important things a director needs to do. The whole tone and style of the music is dictated by the way the director kicks off the chart, yet it’s something that easily gets neglected.


How you snap or clap depends on the style of the groove you’re kicking off. With a swing feeling you should always snap or clap on beats two and four, assuming a 4/4 time.


via wilktone

So, counting on beats 2 and 4 makes the song swing

  • 1
    Not COUNTING. One is still one. You might 'click' on 2 and 4, but they still ARE 2 and 4¬
    – Laurence
    Commented Dec 31, 2017 at 17:19

Actually the difining trait of funk music is an emphasis on the 1 and the 3 - but especially the one. If you listen to James Brown, you'll here him say things like, "Gimme the one," or "Hit me". "Hits" were beaten the one. It's something that he pretty much came up with. Before that the emphasis for jazz was always on the 2 and 4 - even though they like to experiment - and the emphasis in the blues was usually on the up beat. Both were a swing kind of feel.

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