When I count 4/4 time signatures like the one bellow, I do it like this

1 e and a 2 e and a 3 e and a 4 e and a

My question is, how would I switch gears and count the 7/8 bars?

How do you count 8th notes when they are subdivided in 16nth notes in a bar that you're supposed to count 8ths?

This is purely curiosity question, I can play the sheet bellow just fine but I count it like I would a normal 4/4 measure and just start over where the bar ends.

I would like to know a more efficient/"in the book" way to do so. The reason for this, is that I'm practicing to be able to sight read and counting like that is my approach, so far it works.

Thank you in advance.

Dream Theater Overture 1928

2 Answers 2


The 7/8 bars here are written so that they are timed a half beat (quaver) short of the 4/4s. Wanting to start with a 'one' count, you could count 1e&a 2e 3e&a 4e&a, giving you all the semis on a syllable each. The reason I've left out &a of 2 is that the phrasing in this case does just that - it's split the bar into 3 and 4, making 7, thus appearing to miss out &a of 2. Since 3 is an important emphasis in 4/4 and can be counted as an emphasis in 7/8, let's leave that '3' count there.

As Bob says, this will not work for a different phrasing of 7/8 - like 4 and 3.The 'short last beat' trick works better for 4 and 3.

Looking carefully, the 7/8s here are split 3-2-2 rather than 3-4, but the 'missing bit' has still gone from beat 2.


You'll probably find it easiest to move away from counting every semiquaver (16th) in each bar, and just count quavers (8th). This still helps you count semiquavers, though, as every semiquaver note is either on or off a quaver beat. But, you should feel that your counting and playing both flow better, and feel less rushed, as you are counting half as many subdivisions. Also, you can now simply count 4/4 bars as 8 quavers long and 7/8 bars as 7 quavers long.

After a while you should be able to just "feel" the rhythmic changes between 4/4 and 7/8. I often do this by feeling a 7/8 bar as four beats long, just like a 4/4 bar, but with a short last beat. This does depend upon the grouping of the 7/8 bar though.

  • I don't find it easier at all to count quavers. It just gets too complicated to count it right. The bars above just have to do with a time signature change, other bars in the same song are crazy, mixing 16th triplets and 16th with dotted (don't know how to call this in English) 8th notes and put in the weirdest places of the bar. First thing I tried, is what you suggest here. Didn't work at all. The method you suggest could easily work for me in simple pieces of music, I do count it like that then. For this song, it doesn't work for me that way. (Song is not THAT bad, but you get the idea). Ty
    – Not Amused
    Sep 30, 2014 at 14:39
  • No problem. That's just the way I find it easiest to switch between bars with quarter and eighth subdivisions. A lot of musicians I know that play contemporary classical and jazz use this way to count, too. But the most important thing is to use a system you're comfortable with. Sep 30, 2014 at 14:46
  • I understand that, actually I believe that if I keep at this, I'll be able to do it the way you suggest, but since I just started counting instead of playing by memory. It's easier for me as a beginner in this field (counting) to count each and every note. The reasons for this are two: 1. The hope to get the feel of each subdivision of the bar (knowing exactly where I am without thinking about it in the end). 2. The hope that I will reach the level to do what you suggested. But first I have to know how it sounds/feels before I can do it without much effort. Thanks again for your answer.
    – Not Amused
    Sep 30, 2014 at 14:54

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