I am learning to listen analytically to music (listening to try and figure out what is going on) but I tend to get lost in the music quite easily.

For example, when I start counting in my head, at some point I'll lose track (I try to count the beats and sometimes also try and count the bars and phrase lengths). I'm also trying to figure out the chords and rhythms.

I'm probably trying to do too much at once and that is the problem. But I also tend to have distracting thoughts (such as what time it is, what I have to do tomorrow, etc... you know, useless stuff that modern society forces on us).

If there isn't a good answer (since it is probably pretty vague), what is the best thing to work on first? Counting so much that it becomes innate, which would then make learning all the rest of the stuff easier? (since you then know where everything is at)

Also, is counting bars useful? I tend to think that counting them might be a bad idea, because if I get out of sync then I have to start the song over to make sure I don't associate wrong numbers with specifics in a song (e.g., chorus starts at bar 37 but I counted it wrong at 38... Then I think the chorus is at bar 38 and next time I count I get confused because I'm unsure of myself). Or are these mistakes just part of learning?

  • When it comes to the 'concentration' part - what's your motivation for wanting to do these particular exercises/transcriptions? I didn't think actual numeric counting of bars was a particularly useful skill for most musicians, but I could be wrong. Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 8:19
  • @topomorto There are several reasons: Be better equipped to know where I'm at in the song. e.g., say I have a problem with a bar of music. If I can know exactly what bar number it is then it can't hurt, right? Also, if I'm transcribing, then knowing the bars seem like it can't hurt? The main thing is, if I knew the bar number "magically" it seems like I would be a better musician, no? I tend to lose concentration very easily and knowing where I'm at is a big deal(helps me feel the music and play more confidently). I am getting better counting though but still sometimes lose track...
    – user2691
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 19:01
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    The problem with saying that knowing/learning something like that can't hurt is that it can hurt if it distracts you from using more relevant skills and wastes the time you could spend doing more fun and educational things. Always having the bar number right on the tip of your tongue is a skill only used by a subset of musicians, and even then, they'd usually be referring to a score in situations where they needed to do that. Honestly, the people I know who focus too much on counting seem to be the ones who end up most frustrated with their music! Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 19:16
  • @topomorto Well, remember that everyone is different. I feel like I have no problem creating music now. It flows more or less immediately, when I want(I have no creative block in music, for the most part). Not saying it's all good but I don't struggle with that like I used to. My biggest problem is essentially memorization. I find it very difficult to learn songs. It always has been a problem. I have noticed the more I know about where things occur in the song time wise, the better I seem to be able to remember it, I think because I have a lack of solid time feel.
    – user2691
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 0:06
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    I'm struggling a little to reconcile what you are saying in these comments with what you said in the original question - e.g. chorus starts at bar 37 but I counted it wrong at 38. Maybe you were exaggerating there about actually having those kinds of problems? If not, then it does seem to me that a focus on linear counting - rather than having a higher-level view of, and feel for, a song's structure - seems to be already causing you problems. Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 2:26

3 Answers 3


As far as the distracting thoughts, it happens to a lot of people. It happens to me as well. One way that has helped me concentrate is to have some to tell me to. Let's say I am at my lesson with my teacher and he sees that I am getting a bit distracted, he will tell me to focus. This is something that has helped me and now I don't get that much distracted.

what is the best thing to work on first?

Well, for starters you can start counting the beats of the time signature. Then you can start counting bars and see how many bars each section has. For instance, the intro has 12, the main chorus 24 etc. This will be easier rather than saying 'bridge is on bar 342' or something.

is counting bars useful? I tend to think that counting them might be a bad idea

I wouldn't call it a bad idea, but it isn't something I do very often. It is good to be able to count bars, but don't get hang up on it.

And of course all these mistakes, like getting one or two bars wrong and getting distracted and getting mixed up are part of your learning. With practice you'll be able to get it without all these.

  • Ok, I'll just keep practicing. It's been working as I'm way better at doing it then I was in the past and I'm not as lost as I used to be. I try to count sections too. But I guess trying to do it all at once and also feel the music was just too much for my brain at first(not being very good anyways). At least practicing correctly(on the right stuff) seems to help. Thanks.
    – user2691
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 19:05

As Shev. says, counting bars isn't that helpful, or something done a lot (unless you're percussionist in an orchestra...) but a good move is to actually write stuff down as you listen. Once the metre thus time sig. has been established, make some boxes on paper, usually 4 per line works, and put in maybe the word or chord or thing that happens, say, at the start of each line. Maybe a word sung, a cymbal crash, etc. If the timing is 4/4, then count each box - which equates to each bar- so you know when the next 'event' comes. Mark that in, too. Leave a space (paragraph) where the verse and chorus, maybe, are separated. Like most things, the more you do, the better it gets, hopefully.

EDIT: you ask if counting bars is useful. As above, but it will depend an awful lot on what kind of music you're trying to analyse. If it's pop songs, there is little point, as one verse is very similar to another, and also the same with the chorus. Words may differ, but structure and length are pretty constant. If it's a serious classical piece, then it's very different, although knowing that a particular bar is bar 38 will only really be of use when you are playing it with the rest of the orchestra. It would be good for you to mix with other musos, and discuss all this with them. Failing that have a session with a teacher, who will probably reiterate all that's been said here.

  • yeah, I'm learning how to do all that stuff... Just never realized I should do it or that people did this sort of analysis of music. I always thought it was just a "feel" thing and I found it very hard to do by feel(since I would tend to feel things my own way and it would cause problems here and there).
    – user2691
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 2:12

I vote up what Shevliaskovic says counting the beats that the first that you need to be proficient. Then maybe bar numbers. But for bars to know where something comes in, you have the score or get the score and teach yourself where everything comes in or goes out. That's my experience.

  • Well, I don't always have the score. In some cases it is to notate the score or to know a bar that I have trouble with. I lose focus so easily at times that I forget where I'm at in the song. I'm realizing it's just all practice... The more I do it the more these problems go away, of course one should practice things in the correct order. (seems counting is necessary for transcribing... I tried to do it the reverse way and was so painfully slow that I couldn't get anywhere... was also very inaccurate). I'm a relative noob on so many musical fronts that I'm trying to focus on all my weakness.
    – user2691
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 19:08
  • I'm in the same boat with you. So you should make your priorities clear. What you could make yourself easier try and do that. There is sooo much to learn. If you get the score it will make it easier for you to remember. So you could relegate you energy to more important things.
    – Nachmen
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 19:31
  • Yeah, I have started to use the scores. They help tremendously. I have found that when I forget stuff or even when I'm just cruising along, I can sometimes visualize the score on some level and it helps me not get in to trouble like I would before I started reading scores. I still have a while to go to actually get good at it, but it's a great skill to have.
    – user2691
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 0:19

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