Whenever I count beats to a song, I mostly end up with counting a bar this pattern:


And when I want to "count the sub-beats" (I don't know if that is the way to do it, but I do so) end up counting a bar(hopefully a bar) this pattern:

1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 1-2(The last 1-2 is a bit long while 1-2-3-4 are quick)

What am I doing wrong while counting?

Besides popular 4/4 songs, I tend to do so for songs labelled 3/4. And thus fail to distinguish between 3/4 and 4/4 songs.

Also, whenever I try to compose/play/tap something, I always end up with the 4 beats i.e. the 1-2-3-4 pattern. And when I listen to songs labelled 7/8, 3/8, sth like that, I totally fail to count the beats. I have seen videos with guys counting the beats using two hands and still end up without any progress, lol! How to get out of this 4/4 mindset?

  • 1
    Too small for an answer, but one thing I find important is the initial count. If I start into a song with "two, three, four, (one)", I'll think in four. If I start with "a' five, six, seven eight, (one)" I'll be thinking in groups of eight. For 3/4 I tend to start with "two, three, (one)"
    – Cort Ammon
    Jun 13 '17 at 16:46
  • 1
    1 e and a 2 e and a 3 e and a 4 e and a Jun 13 '17 at 20:03

Alright. There are actually a few questions here:

1.) How do I subdivide beats?

2.) How do I count asymmetric time signatures?

3.) How do I get out of a 4/4 mindset?

1.) How do I subdivide beats?

  • In 4/4 time with quarter notes: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

  • In 4/4 time with eighth notes: 1 + (and) 2 + 3 + 4 +

  • In 4/4 time with sixteenth notes: 1 (e) + (a) 2 (e) + (a) 3 (e) + (a) 4 (e) + (a)

That should suffice for most of your counting purposes. I would highly recommend picking up just about any rhythmic studies book, learning to read & write in the counts, and practice reading mixed rhythms.

2.) How do I count asymmetric time signatures?

  • Asymmetric time signatures (5/8, 7/8, 11/8, etc.) are typically constructed of smaller beat groupings. For example, 7/8 may be a 2+2+3, a 3+2+2, or a 2+3+2 grouping. Others are of course possible, but those are the most common. For the purpose of this example, let's choose 2+2+3.

  • In 7/8 time with a 2+2+3 grouping, you'll find that beats 1, 3, and 5 are emphasized:

  • 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 -> these are the 8th-notes

  • Thus, when counting, your counting should reflect the groupings: 1 2 1 2 1 2 3

  • This process can be applied to any asymmetric meter.

3.) How do I get out of a 4/4 mindset?

If you've ever goofed around on an electric keyboard, you know that you make up music differently if you've put on a "slap bass" patch versus an "organ" or a "string" patch. The same is true for time signatures. If you only listen to music in 4/4 time, only learn music in 4/4 time, it's going to be quite difficult for you to create music that doesn't fit that idea.

You are what you eat. Feed yourself different kinds of music. Learn and play different kinds of music. Listen to jazz, Elliot Carter, Steve Reich, North Indian music, Snarky Puppy, Frank Zappa, South African drumming, klezmer, etc. Give yourself more and you'll give others more.

  • 1
    It may help if you also work on recognising the sound of these common note combinations: -Dotted crotchet, quaver: 1-2+ -dotted quaver, semiquaver: 1-e-+ a - semiquaver, quaver, semiquaver: 1 (e)-+ a -triplets: 1 trip let Jun 14 '17 at 0:28
  • 1
    I'd like to share as an example of #2 a video of Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater counting their most complicated song, The Dance of Eternity, which has over 100 changes of weird time signatures and is absolutely amazing. Jun 14 '17 at 14:24
  • Or perhaps Ufo Tofu by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. The sheet music has been published, although it becomes a blur as space and time do weird things when velocities approach the speed of light. Jun 15 '17 at 6:52

Simple fact is, more songs are in 4/4 - so much so, it's called common time - though that's not the reason there's sometimes a 'C' instead of 4/4.

The most important first thing to establish is where and when BEAT ONE is in the rhythm. It's usually the most pronounced beat of the bar - often a kick on the bass drum. Then count the beats, not sub-beats, till you arrive at the next ONE. The number that is biggest, just before ONE again, is the number of beats in the bar. ONE - 2 - 3 - 4 - ONE in 4/4. ONE - 2 - 3 - ONE in 3/4, etc.

Your way of counting isn't working well because you are not counting in a regular way. First 3 beats are fine, but then you change the speed of the count - I guess to half time - for the last beat.Of course you can do that, but it doesn't help to establish a rhythm that is easily countable. When every beat is counted the same, it's a better way to find timings.

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