The most important aspect of maintaining your rhythm is counting. And I can usually understand and/or count the rhythm when I take a look at the score. However, the problem begins when I start playing. If I focus too much on counting and rhythm may fingering get awry sometimes or I don't focus enough on other aspects like reading the notes ahead and dynamics. I know that time and practice are the most important things here but is there any effective practice regimen to get over it quickly? or any specific tips to improve on it?

Also, this might sound stupid, but simply the sound of my instrument makes me unable to hear my counting and therefore lose track of it. I can count by feeling and intuition but to less effect. Is there any suggestions for this aside from time and practice?

  • 6
    You do need to practice this way, but eventually you don't need to "hear" the counting in your head. Eventually you'll stop doing that and you'll just know which beat you're on at all times.
    – Grey
    Aug 27, 2014 at 4:37

4 Answers 4



  • write the count out in pencil on your score, so you're not trying to remember what comes after "three" when you're trying to play and you aren't decoding what pitch goes on which count in realtime.
  • practice just the rhythm clapping it, chanting it, playing it on the tonic note.
  • practice counting aloud with a recording of it to get a feel for it.
  • count only one: as a practice exercise, practice only saying "one" at the downbeats and no other counting to learn the association of where the measures start with the habit of saying "one!" This may make it easier when you then bring the rest of the count in.
  • exaggerate the emphasis: as a practice exercise, play with a really exaggerated marcato rhythm until you're getting everything in the right place in time. You can be cantabile later.
  • metronome

Finally, let me say, I think a lot of problems junior musicians have with counting and rhythmic accuracy are at least exacerbated, if not caused, by a bad attitude about rhythm, that playing the "right notes" in the right order is more important than playing them in the right moment.

The most important aspect of maintaining your rhythm is NOT counting. The most important aspect of maintaining your rhythm is knowing the feeling of your rhythm. Counting is a tool, a means to that end. It's the scaffold with which you build the building, but it's not the building. Or perhaps more accurately, it's the measuring tape that keeps you honest as you put the footings of your pillars down. If you're having trouble getting your footings to match with the measuring tape, maybe that's because you're placing them based on mistaken estimates of where they go.

The point of counting is to give you the feel for how the piece goes, how its impulses fall, accurately. If the counting is fighting you, maybe the issue is you need to get the feel of the rhythm into your body, understanding it not as a semantic thing ("two half notes followed by 4 eighths and a half note") but a sensation ("DUM! DUM! DADADADA-DUM!")

Rhythm is not an arbitrary series of durations: it is the other main dimension of beauty in music. If melody is the part of music that sings, rhythm is the part of music that dances. Those series of durations were chosen for a reason, and have meaning and expressiveness. The point of counting is to attempt to reveal that to you, so that you can reveal them to the audience. Get into them, and I think you will begin to find them compelling, to find they take on a life of their own.

  • 1
    Nicely suggested. Sep 8, 2014 at 23:47
  • Well written. I especially find "You can be cantabile later." to be very important, even more when playing pieces for the first time, wheter alone or with an orchestra. Playing it perfectly in time is required first to make it cantabile properly later.
    – Mafii
    Oct 25, 2017 at 14:09

As with many questions on this site, the meat of the answer is, practice. What seems difficult now, will seem much easier after practice.

However, there are some things you can do:

You may need to explicitly count while learning a piece, but once you know the piece's rhythms, you shouldn't need to. So forget about dynamics until you know how the piece goes. This also goes for reading ahead - if you know the piece, you don't need to read ahead. The sheet music is only there to jog your memory. First learn to play the piece. Then learn to play it with expression.

If you are finding counting so difficult that the sound of your instrument distracts you, perhaps you are attempting pieces with rhythms that are too difficult for your level. Go back to some simpler pieces until you develop your counting skills. Over time, counting will become something you hardly think about.

Make a point of counting when you are listening to music. If you find it difficult to count while listening, then you're going to have even more trouble counting and playing at the same time. So count while listening until you can do that with no effort. When you can do it easily with pieces in 4/4 or 3/4 with drums or strong rhythm, move on to pieces with more unusual time signatures, or pieces in which the rhythm isn't signposted by drums or strong rhythmic parts.


The existing answers have a lot of good advice, especially as regards transitioning from counting the beat to feeling the beat. As an intermediate step, you might tapping your foot in time instead of counting. As you become more comfortable, you can progress from tapping the entire foot to just tapping a toe -- which no one will even know you're doing if you're wearing shoes. If you watch musicians playing, many of them will move their body in time with the music, whether a gentle head nod, or a slight swaying of the body, or the full-blown head banging of a rock guitarist (sorry... I'm stereotyping). These motions are cues to themselves and their fellow performers of where they feel the beat, and they serve to keep everyone synchronized.

As for practicing, it can be very helpful to pick one small part (perhaps a measure or so) where you are having trouble, and work through how the rhythm should go, and then just repeat that section over and over to internalize the rhythm. If you need to slow it down to get through it, that's fine; at this point you're looking for accuracy. I'll occasionally break things down to the level of individual 16th notes if I have to. Details like dynamics and articulation are extraneous at this point, and only serve as a distraction. Even playing the instrument itself can be a distraction! Just clapping, or singing/speaking some nonsense syllables ("da da da da da") can be helpful. The point is to learn the feel of the passage so that you can perform it instinctively, without needing to count.


If you're having difficulty counting while playing, the most likely cause is that you're trying to time your counts to your actions, whereas you need to time your actions to your counts.

Counting has specific applied uses: 1) to enable you to anticipate the duration of sounds of varying length (or their printed notes) and 2) to keep track of where you are in the course of a bar or phrase. But the basically required aspect of counting concerns setting the regular pace at which you intend to play - effectively, in the manner of a conductor. The conductor sets the pace (beat-rate), the players time their playing-actions to that pace.

To set a regular pace, the conductor has to mentally anticipate a predetermined number of beats in advance of the current beat - in particular, when the last of those beats will occur. You cannot set a pace just thinking one beat before thinking of the next. So, if you're intending to count 4, you need to anticipate when the fourth beat occurs and then pace the intervening counts regularly towards it. Then, with that forward-moving pace consciously in your mind, you time your playing actions to coincide with particular beats (or where indicated, between particular beats). This procedure is one you can practise straightforwardly until your actions and counts seem thoroughly "as one".

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