I'm mostly self-taught musically; I've had some formal training, but what I learned back in elementary school never got past 8th notes. I learned the basics of counting 16th notes (1 e & a...) when picking up drums about a year or two ago, but now I've come upon an interesting issue.

A friend has asked me to teach him bass, and I'm trying my best to avoid simply telling him to "do it by feel" and get him a proper foundation on counting. In our next lesson I've got a piece picked out that works pretty well as a basic introduction to counting patterns using whole through 8th notes, but it's got two transitional bars in a 16th note pattern that, frankly, I'm not sure how to count out properly.

The bar two bars in question look like the following (taken from the Mega Man 3 boss theme, for reference):

All notes are 16th notes, R = 16th rest

As a result of my lack of training, I have a bad habit of counting notes instead of rhythm, so my instinct tends to run to counting it as either of the following:

  • 12, 12, 12, 12, 123
  • 11, 22, 33, 44, 123

Conversely, based on how I've since learned to count 16th notes, the following pattern is ostensibly the "correct" way to do it:

  • 1 e, a 2, & a, e &, 4 e &

But that seems so ridiculously messy and complex I'm having trouble counting it right at all.

What is the right method for counting these two bars?

  • 1
    As Dom wrote in his answer, you definitely want to break the habit of omitting counts when there is a rest. Learning to count all the beats and relevant subdivisions is a key ingredient in understanding more complicated rhythms. You might practice counting when listening to music and not even playing. Oct 17, 2015 at 18:40

2 Answers 2


That is the correct way to count 16th notes, but you should count all the beats when you play. You don't stop counting because you stop playing and it does make things more complicated especially when something is syncopated like this. For this song you would count all the notes. Below I put the count and bolded what you will play:

1 - e - & - a - 2 - e - & - a - 3 - e - & - a - 4 - e - & - a

Try to practice this rhythm against a metronome so you can hear an external count so you get use to counting this way. It may also help to think of the time signature as 8/8 for practice purposes so you can count it like this:

1 - & - 2 - & - 3 - & - 4 - & - 5 - & - 6 - & - 7 - & - 8 - &

Some people are intimidated by small subdivisions like 16th notes and counting them like this should help you if counting small subdivisions is the problem.


I didn't understand your notation, but I have two suggestions for you.

  • Say "shh" each time there is a rest.

  • Try rewriting the passage (for your own benefit), replacing each quarter with a half note, each eighth with a quarter, each sixteenth with an eighth, etc.

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