Typically every note gets a beat. The way I learned how to count 32nd notes in 4/4 though only every other beat gets a count so it's like counting 16th notes, but having two notes every count.


X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  X  ... 
1     e     +     a     2     e     +     a     ...

In this way of counting technically only every other 32nd note gets a beat and thus not all the notes are counted.

Because of this I was wondering if there are some subdivision that are theoretically "uncountable" due to them being so small compared to the beat and if there is not how would the subdivisions be counted as the got absurdity small?

  • The question can have different answers depending on what exactly you are asking. Sometimes if you speed up a recorded rhythm really fast, it will change into a timbre (think of peddling faster and faster on your bike, while listening to a paper hitting against the spokes). The line between rhythm and timbre is really blurry. On the other hand, if you are asking about a single isolated beat, this is much better defined because we can use the Just Noticeable Difference (JND) to quantify the smallest audible subdivision.
    – Ryan
    Sep 17, 2014 at 1:10
  • @Ryan I am just talking about theoretical counting a rhythm. I.E. If you are handed a piece of sheet music in 4/4 is there a subdivision that theoretically can't get a beat because it is too small.
    – Dom
    Sep 17, 2014 at 1:13
  • If that is the case (and if I am understanding you correctly), your question may be a bit subjective. There isn't any experiment you could realistically set up to determine what the smallest subdivision is.
    – Ryan
    Sep 17, 2014 at 1:16
  • @Ryan how is that subjective? Either theoretically there is a way to handle subdivisions that are infinitely small or there is a limit to counting the subdivisions.
    – Dom
    Sep 17, 2014 at 1:32
  • 1
    @Ryan - rhythm and timbre are two completely unrelated things. I believe the term you are looking for is hypermeter. I posted an answer about hypermeter a while ago. Sep 17, 2014 at 4:01

1 Answer 1


The answer is "No."

Everything can be counted. It's like Science - the rules of traditional physics breakdown at the quantum level, so you need new rules to understand the different physics. Counting / rhythms operate the same way.

The "magic" system that allows everything to be counted is the Indian Carnatic System which allows for any number of subdivisions for any rhythms of any length.

  • 1
    Can you give an example of how the Indian Carnatic System would handle the rhythm shown above?
    – Dom
    Sep 17, 2014 at 13:20
  • @Dom - it would depend on how they are being subdivided. The western traditional system only accounts for regular beat divisions (2, 3, 4, etc) but the Carnatic rhythms are infinitely subdivided and interchangeable (such as 3+5+2 etc). In a straight-forward 8 32nd notes-per-beat of simple time, you would use the following syllables to subdivide the beat into 8 (4+4) parts: ta-ke-di-mi-ta-ke-ja-nu Sep 18, 2014 at 1:03

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