Trying to follow the rules, yes I am trying to learn my instrument, watching YouTube videos, and trying to learn from looking at sheet music...

It seems I "learn" about something it feels like it clicks but then I find out I am wrong...

I never understand what it means that the ____ gets the beat... as if that note gets the beat what do the other notes get?

I was able I think to achieve the feel I wanted in 4/4 by using an 8th note, 8th rest, 8th note, 8th rest.

Then I started seeing that depending on the time signature it appears that some notes get a strong, medium, weaker, etc. beat; is it that I need to memorize this strong, medium, weak for every time signature as does it change for each one? Is that how to determine what note is strong?

Or like I found maybe that a measure works well in 4/4 but I then switched to 7/4 as I wanted 6 half note beats and 1 ...and then to my untrained self the half note feels the same wither is in 7/4 or 6/4 so to untrained self it appears so far that different time signatures also helps the sheet music stay neater...but I am also thinking that I could have had this same feel with different rhythms without having ever changed from 4/4....

I appreciate anyone trying to decipher what I really am trying to say! I know how much it's hard speaking between those that speak music language and those of us that can't translate our non music words into the words you talented experienced musicians already know..

It pains me, and my head, but I am really am trying!

  • Which instrument are you playing? (It doesn't play a role but when I read your question I was thinking of a drummer - probably wrong) May 1, 2020 at 9:01
  • I don't know whether my answer is pointing your problem. I'm not sure whether I've understood your question (understand or understood ; ) maybe you can formulate your problem more clearly? May 1, 2020 at 9:30
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    Can we find a better title? This one is unsearcheable for future users.
    – Tetsujin
    May 1, 2020 at 10:31
  • Having not used this site/forums I am sorry for not knowing how to respond correctly other than to say @albrecht Hügli I am trying to learn piano as well as singing but since I have not found away around not seeing music notes as a stretch of time i can't possibly feel the difference between notes that are dotted quarter notes...and say a 4/4 whole note tied to a quarter note...i think I mostly feel 8th notes and half notes..but again like my choir director says maybe I am just guessing...but really I am trying to feel the sensation... May 1, 2020 at 23:36
  • ;) I wish I knew how to formulate my problem more clearly but sadly at the moment the original post is all I've got at the moment is definitely a musical language barrier i am trying to over come... May 1, 2020 at 23:40

6 Answers 6


...I never understand what it means that the ____ gets the beat... as if that note gets the beat what do the other notes get?

The beat unit gets the beat. So in common time - 4/4 - quarter note gets the beat and there are 4 beats per bar. I think you understand that.

The note values smaller than the beat unit are called subdivisions of the beat.

In terms of what do the beats, beat unit, subdivisions, etc. "get", you want to think in general terms of accent which mostly a matter of loudness. Strong and weak beats are the usual names.

The first note of a bar , beat 1, gets accented beats 2 and beyond will be played softer than beat 1. Meters of 4 beats have a bit of a strong accent on beat 3 which sort of makes 4/4 like 2/4 in terms of general accent levels.

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The first note of any beat is usually a little stronger in terms of accent that any subdivision after it. The following graphic shows strongness of accent with dots below the notes. 3 dots is strongest, 2 dots medium, 1 dot weak...

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You can see a kind of general concept that when anything is divided the first part gets a stronger accent that the remaining part. That applies with any divisions of divions (bar divided into beats, beats divided into subdivisions.)

Maybe a simpler way to put it is: the default accent is medium, beat 1 one is emphasized strong, beat subdivisions are a little weaker than medium.

This model of metrical accent levels applies to any meter. Just identify the beat unit, beat one, and subdivisions. Those are the elements of any meter. The only differ by the specific count.

Keep in mind is is mostly a theoretical description of the hierarchy of accent within metrical divisions. The emphasis is on theory not performance. The overall effect you want it often just a subtle pulse on each beat. Of course many times a performer uses crescendo/decrescendo, swell the loudness up and down over several beats or measures. At that point the actual loudness levels aren't going to match the theoretical model.

Or like I found maybe that a measure works well in 4/4 but I then switched to 7/4 as I wanted 6 half note beats and 1 ...and then to my untrained self the half note feels the same wither is in 7/4 or 6/4

This part of your question is unclear, but maybe this will help.

Meters like 4/4 or 6/4 can have an accent at the half note level...

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...that is easy to see, because the number of beats per bar is even.

But, with 7/4, the number of beats is odd, uneven. It's ambiguous how to group accents. Usually 7 is divided into groups of 3 and 4 (or 5/4 divided into 3 and 2, etc...)

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If I understood you correctly, you divided the beats evenly then wondered what to do with the remaining one beat...

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I think you can leave the last beat unaccented or accented...

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Can you get a similar rhythmic feel in 4/4? Yes, but you have to put the accents in places contrary to the basic metric pulse...

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That kind of feel is similar to the feel of an odd time signature. (If it happens briefly in otherwise plain 4/4, or if it happens over another simple 4/4 rhythm, it might be better to just call it syncopation.) If you played that pattern constantly some might say it is actually mixed meter...

enter image description here

  • I hope you will see this! Thanks so very much to you all as I appreciate everyone and don't want anyone thinking I don't value everyone! The fact that you were able and willing to show all this to me is so Amazing and I hope will help more than just me! I will study this more and get more of it taught to me so that I can hopefully give a better understanding and response...i appreciate your passion! May 2, 2020 at 0:19
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    All good, but I wonder about 6/4. I would say it's more like 6/8, with a compound time feel, thus two accents per bar. More usually beamed in two halves, when there are quavers.
    – Tim
    May 2, 2020 at 5:48

Right! If you're on the nursery slopes, treat anything as 'it will be simple, so don't overthink it'.

Firstly, listen to more music, with a slightly critical ear. Feel the pulse, count 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 along with it. Get the rhythm of anything you're listening to, get it moving you - your head nodding, your foot tapping, your hands clapping. All the more simple tunes and songs will have their own rhythmss, which generally start at the beginning, and continue relentlessly through to the end.

When you eat a meal, you don't try to pile it all in, in one go! Do the same with music (or anything else, for that matter...). For now, choose just one aspect of music - rhythm. If you want/need to get technical, and have the sheet in front of you, look at the numbers at the beginning. The top number gives a big clue as to how to count. It's usually 4, but could be 3. If it's 3, then the count is 1-2-3-1-2-3-, where 1 is emphasised more than 2 or 3. But count regularly, like a pendulum would swing.Those are crotchets, aka 1/4 notes - usually those 'given the beat' from your question.

If that's successful and you want to go further, count slowwly, and put 'and' in between each number - 1&2&3&4&1. Those are quavers, aka 1/8th notes.

Some of the sites which purport to teach one how to play are brilliant - others shouldn't even be there. Trouble is, as a beginner, you just can't tell the wheat from the chaff.

At this point, the mantra is - get a teacher. Even for an occasional lesson - which any good teacher will be happy with. At least you can get questions answered in real time, with demos.This is merely a starter answer.

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    The VAST majority of "expertise" on YouTube, regarding guitar playing anyway, is questionably valuable at best, and overall should probably be avoided by the beginner. Man I hate when somebody says, "but on YouTube this guy says you don't need to know that..." Well, that guy calls himself a teacher, but is giving his advice away for free. Why do you think that is? May 1, 2020 at 17:20
  • @TimConsolazio - to another Tim - I'm with you all the way - probably been in front with that thought for minimum 10yrs...
    – Tim
    May 1, 2020 at 17:25

You need some one-to-one sessions with a teacher. Probably have to be online at present, but Lord knows, there's enough unoccupied musicians available!


I suppose your problem isn't sitting in your brain or mind but maybe in your body control, probably rather a sensomotoric than a cognitive problem:

Usually I would say go out walking or jogging an count the beats every step, every 2nd step, every 3rd, 4th step you make. Don't only practice with your instrument, you can also tap with your fingers on the table, chair, belly, thigh and count - without sheet music.

When you feel "at home" with the rhythm imagine what it could be and try to notate what you have played. Imagine how many variations you can make with the numbers 1-8. (I mean the accents above one of these numbers.)

I never understand what it means that the ____ (here must probably stand quarter, half or eighth note?) gets the beat...as if that note gets the beat what 😳 does the other notes get?

Gets the beat can mean the counting unit, the denominator (as you say the lower number in the time signature under the slash: 2/2, 3/4, 12/8.

But maybe gets the beat you understand also the accentuation:

When you sit on a chair you can walk or tap with your feet counting 1,2,3,4 the quarters and clap with your hand on your knees or run with your fingers on your thighs the eight notes counting 1a2a3a4a or you can also count the eighth notes and give an accent on any number between 1 and 8.


Assumed you play guitar and you are strumming you can accentuate in a 4/4 time the marching rhythm 1,2,3,4 (counting the eighth notes strumming up and down this would be the counted quavers 1 3 5 7).

But you can also play a rhythm pattern accentuating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 strumming as following: 1,2,3 -> fingers (down), thumb (down), fingers (up)

4,5,6 -> fingers (down), thumb (down), fingers (up)

7,8 -> thumb (down), fingers (up)

Try to count the time of 2/8, 3/8, 4/8, 5/8, 6/8, 7/8 etc. when walking and feeling the 4/4 time by grouping the eighth notes in all variations, then notate what you have understood playing and try to read, feel and perform your notation.

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    okay, I will go and count the other time signatures... if I understood correctly as I have to admit I have only counted 4/4 and 3/4 and only recently learned hopefully that 1 2 3 4 is 4/4 counting the quarter notes and then 1&2&3&4 the same but it's counting the 8th notes... and 3/4 is 123 or 1&2&3& I know to the more professional musicians that's not much...for me though it's more clarification than I had before :) May 2, 2020 at 1:04

I have a method that I use for myself. It is more time consuming than I like, but for my purposes, it is quite effective in helping me understand otherwise confusing points in my studies. My method is to write out the material I'm studying, sometimes I copy word for word, other times I write out in note form. For some reason, writing it out causes my brain to process the ideas and they become more coherent to me and it helps me to see a much bigger picture of what is really going on. I still have to memorize things but it's much easier for me because the understanding is there for me. I don't know if it works for everybody, but I've found it works that way for me. I appreciate your question.

  • thanks so much...i appreciate your sharing...i don't know if my response is getting to your response but it's making me think back to when my first voice teacher and others have taught me else where that you have to remember that words have syllables so I know and remember that as I try to write and read sheet music. I have tried to take everything I have been taught and improve my knowledge and for those that have never heard the things I have need even my little bit repeated over as this music language is so huge! Awe, thanks i am glad that you have a passion for music... May 2, 2020 at 0:49

I'll add: one of the best resources I ever worked with for exactly this, is a book called "Sight Reading for the Contemporary Guitarist", by Tom Dempsey (who I actually met when they still did the National Guitar Workshops).

-- Goes to bookshelf and finds book with very little effort, since I still use this book to this day --

Chapters one and two sound like EXACTLY what you need.

Chapter 1: Review of musical basics (explains the basics of notation and time signatures, specifically, what "gets the beat" and such means).

Chapter 2: Reading Rhythms, with subsections on how to count them. There is a large section called "Rhythmic Pattern Repertoire" that is such a good practice I go through it once in a while to this day.

Lots of examples, clear explanations and exercises. I say pretty confidently that if you were to put in the time to really master the content of this book, you would be a pretty damn capable guitar player. Musician, that's another conversation. But competent with the instrument, definitely. However, even if you only ingest "the gist" of the book, you'll still benefit greatly.

I can't sight read the way a pro can (basically, you get handed some complex notation, not just a lead sheet, and play exactly what's on it). Sight reading rhythm (and performing it at the same time) takes a lot of practice.

But the exercises and explanations in this book I found to be so valuable, that I actually ordered a second copy of it after dog-earing the first one. Of course you don't have to sight read to be an accomplished player. But having a little background in it is VERY useful, since the whole skill of sight reading mostly centers on recognizing and adhering to rhythm. I had a guitar teacher many moons ago who told me, "if you get a player that can get the rhythm right out of the gate, that's the guy you want in your show."

  • LOVE IT thanks for that narrative! Nice! Thanks for that sharing I am glad that you got to meet the author! Thanks so much Tim, I will for sure buy that book if I can find it as i really am trying to do as I am told...i have two piano books but maybe this new book will click with me more or reinforce what the other books say but in a new way! Thanks for the help and taking us on that journey! May 2, 2020 at 1:14

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