I may sound strange, yet. I've noticed that some time signatures are counted in different ways.

For instance a 6/4 can be 123123 or 123412 or 121231. A 4/4 can be 1234 or 1231. A 15/8 can be 123456711234567 or 123456781231234.

What is the difference and why is it done this way?

1 Answer 1


One convention is that counting '1' represents a beat that is 'strong' at some level of the hierarchy of beat strength. If someone is doing this with a piece notated 6/4 and counting '123123123123', you have a (possibly 'lesser') strong beat halfway between each bar boundary. Counting '123412123412' indicates you have a strong beat at the start of the bar, and a (possibly 'lesser') strong beat two-thirds of the way through the bar, giving an asymmetrical rhythmic feel.

  • So it means stresses beat and only? It like an accent on a note but instead on a beat. Can it be 1111 in a 4/4? Dec 27, 2016 at 23:00
  • @SovereignSun When I say 'beat', I don't mean an unpitched sound like the 'beat' of the drum; I simply mean a point in time. On a strong beat, you might well expect an accent on the notes played by (at least some of) the instruments (pitched and unpitched). Dec 27, 2016 at 23:12
  • And I wouldn't expect people to often count '1111...' as there's no audible delimiter between '1' and anything else, so it's not very useful! Also, if a piece was constant strong beats, I think you'd expect it to be notated 1/4 (or 1/2, 1/1, 1/8...) in the first place. Dec 27, 2016 at 23:15
  • @topomorto There are several Beethoven scherzo movements that are written in 3/4, but counted "111..." with one beat in the bar, and every bar with an equally strong "beat". (Counting each bar as "123" would too fast to be practical, at 250-300 BPM.) You can't write a "1/something..." time signature for that rhythm, unless you do something weird like writing the entire piece in triplets!
    – user19146
    Dec 27, 2016 at 23:41
  • @alephzero what I probably should have said was "if such a piece was constant strong beats, I'd expect it to be notated 1/4." Dec 27, 2016 at 23:46

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