I’m in common time (4/4) and I have a pickup measure with only a quarter note in it. Should it have a measure number?

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    The answer is definitely "no". Unfortunately, much free sheet music is created with badly programmed software that thinks it is "yes", but you shouldn't let that mislead you. Mar 22, 2020 at 8:11
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    If you really want to give it number, give it a zero. Mar 24, 2020 at 13:12
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    Not an answer, just an observation. In my version of Finale, the pickup measure IS NOT counted in the measure numbering process. However, it IS COUNTED if defining the number of measures wanted in the first staff!!!
    – Jim Canty
    Jun 19, 2022 at 17:22

3 Answers 3


No, a pickup measure will not be counted as measure 1 in a score. Instead, the first full measure following the pickup will be labeled as measure 1.

But it's not that this pickup will never be counted; traditionally, the last measure of a piece will have the duration of the pickup subtracted from its total duration. As such, the final measure will be counted, and the pickup ultimately is counted as a part of that final measure.

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    Put simply, anything but a full bar is the anacrucis, so won't be bar 1. Even if it's a virtually full bar with only a quaver rest and 3 1/2 beats worth of notes.
    – Tim
    Mar 22, 2020 at 7:51
  • Can you clarify - it seems there's a school of thought that believes that if the '1st' bar is written as a full bar, with the appropriate rests, then that is in fact bar 1. (as in a crotchet anacrucis written as a bar with 3 crotchet rests and a note). Which then might mess up the end of that section!
    – Tim
    Mar 22, 2020 at 8:47
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    Is there any benefit, other than tradition, for making the last measure a partial measure when there's a pickup partial-measure? Mar 22, 2020 at 19:18
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    @GregMartin - often, there is a repeat of that section (verse 2, for example) so having the 1st and last bars add up to 1 bar is easier and tidier. Mostly convention, but it sort of makes more sense that way.
    – Tim
    Mar 23, 2020 at 9:01
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    In simple dance-form music, where there may be a 'DC al fine' repeat structure, it makes sense to borrow the upbeat from the length of the last written bar. We see a lot of this sort of music in our early years of music education, it's easy to analyse and easy to play. So we may pick up a distorted impression that what is appropriate in a Bach suite is the 'rule' for all music. It isn't!
    – Laurence
    Jun 19, 2022 at 21:15

No. Pickup measures by definition are partial measures and do not count as "bar no. 1" or the "first measure."

However, if your "pickup" measure is actually a full measure with rests in the first beat(s) then yes, that would be the first full "measure" of the song.

Don't forget to add the remaining beats of that pick-up measure to the end of your score. If your pickup measure has one beat, then your final bar should have three beats (in 4|4 time as stated by the OP).

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  • This seems like a contradiction!
    – Tim
    Mar 22, 2020 at 7:48
  • Is there any benefit, other than tradition, for making the last measure a partial measure when there's a pickup partial-measure? Mar 22, 2020 at 19:18
  • @Tim What do you believe is a contradiction? Please be more specific. Mar 23, 2020 at 8:04
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    @Tim Sorry you don't have the same faith in my answer. For what it's worth, I've been teaching 20+ years and the Royal Conservatory of Music's theory exam and Sibelius (the software notation app) agree with me. Mar 23, 2020 at 9:33
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    What you state may well be correct. I've taught music for 50+ yrs, and still have a lot to learn. Exam board-wise, ABRSM only recognised natural minor scales a few years ago, so exam -wise isn't maybe that good proof, but I don't want to go further! I'll wait and see. Right or wrong, just want answers!
    – Tim
    Mar 23, 2020 at 9:40

Only if it's a full measure. So if you've got a half rest, an eighth rest, and then a beat and a half of pickup notes, it counts. If you just lead in with a beat and a half of pickup notes, the first numbered measure is the next one.

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