Usually when one verbally counts off a 4/4 piece it goes (% is a rest)

1 % 2 % 1 2 3 4

Or for quicker tempos

1 % % % 2 % % % 1 % 2 % 1 2 3 4

Does anyone know the standard way to count of a slow 3/4 waltz? I've been doing

1 % % 2 % % 1 2 3 4 5 6

but that seems too slow.

  • Why go up to 6, when the time is in 3? If it's a slow waltz, it needs to be counted slowly, but in time. Substitute '1,2,3' in place of '4,5,6'.Or, if you like, use '2,2,3'. 6/8 time is different, but is sometimes treated as the same, but quicker.
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 7:19
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    "An' a one, an' a two,..." (hoping someone recognizes the reference). More seriously, if this is what a bandleader is using to sync the group prior to the start of a piece, you might want to work on everyone's sense of time. String quartets (or trios, or octets) typically take at most one up-beat from the leader and dive right in. Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 13:29
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    @CarlWitthoft - I've never understood why a 100 piece orchestra only needs an upbeat, whereas a 4 piece pop group needs 2 whole bars. Still, it beats the choir mistress at a school who counted a waltz in to 1-2-3-4 - honest !
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 18:23
  • @CarlWitthoft Counting off is a common practice in jazz, because it sets up not just the tempo but also the feel and style. Everyone has to be completely locked in to the tempo and feel from the first beat. This is different from in classical string music, where everyone can sort of adjust as the piece starts to what others are doing. Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 1:43
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    @Goos - counting 1-2-1234 doesn't give any clue to feel or style. It gives tempo. It's still necessary to establish whether a piece is straight or swing before the count in. An orchestra cannot 'sort of adjust' at the beginning of a piece, although the musos will generally be of a calibre that they know exactly how a piece will start, having rehearsed. But bands rehearse too...
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 7:41

1 Answer 1


If you need a two-bar count, the one I'm used to is just
a-1, 2, 3, 2, 2, 3 (can also be used for 6/8, depending on tempo)

[the first 'a' giving the 'swing, last triplet' pickup if the piece swings, otherwise it's left out.]

  • 1
    Thanks, this is what I was looking for. Actually I've heard this used before but I had forgotten it. Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 5:56

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