I am learning an to play this accompaniment while I sing "Counting Stars". I am having trouble internalizing the beat in one section, and as such I keep losing rhythm. Not just for this song, it is a more broad problem; a very common pattern in accompaniments is to syncopate the vocal melody (and often the chord) in a similar manner. The section in question is is this:

enter image description here

I haven't been able to internalize the beat and play four steady quarter notes in the left hand. I'm so focused playing and singing the sixteenth notes and off-beat eighth notes, that the bass just becomes another sixteenth division in my mind. And so the inflections are all wrong and the unintended feel is that the beat is chasing the melody, rather than there being a steady beat.

I recorded the beat separately, and when I play that on loop I can play just the right hand and sing in perfect rhythm. Also, I can play the beat accurately while I sing, if I don't play the right hand. But when I actively have to play the [very simple] beat, with the rest, I get all messed up.

My question: what are some exercises I can do, or advise you could offer me, to improve on this?

2 Answers 2


I think your problem has to do with apposition. Once you've got the feel of the thing you shouldn't encounter this difficulty again. You need to know how it feels to play this kind of syncopation.


Forget about your right hand for a minute.

1) Get your foot tapping in crotchets. Tap with the heel, not the toe.

2) Keep the foot going. Make all the LH notes crotchets. Don't bother with the C#s below the stave: leave them out for now. So you're just playing pinky - thumb - pinky - thumb. Loop that for a while.

Now your foot's tapping and your LH is playing pinky - thumb - pinky - thumb. Keep that going and...

3) play and sing ||: "Take that" 2 3 4 :|| Play that for quite a while.

Now work your way through the music below, always counting the beats as shown. Do the repeats till you are both accurate and relaxed!

Then try the original again.

Your foot should never syncopate. It should stay regular and boring at all times!

enter image description here

  • What's the foot tapping for, wouldn't the left hand quarter note pulse be enough for dividing the other rhythms to manageable pieces? My first idea would have been just to do steady quarter notes with the left hand and then getting the right hand to learn more complicated rhythms as short split-down phrase segments. Doesn't the foot tapping add an extra distraction? Or is it for getting a metronome pulse, so an actual metronome could do the same? I tap my foot too when practicing, but I'm not sure if it actually helps ... I just do it for some reason. Commented May 2, 2020 at 20:32
  • I appreciate the effort you put into to creating that sheet bar by bar with all the components of the original. Great answer!
    – Alan
    Commented May 2, 2020 at 21:42
  • @piiperi Reinstate Monica I was thinking very specifically about this apposition thing. It is interesting. I've come across it in quite accomplished classical musicians and seen them determinedly stressing syncopated notes: throwing their whole weight into them and losing the pulse as a result. If the pulse can't be felt, passages like the OP's can be impossible to play. Maybe I over-emphasized the foot, but I was keen for him to feel the pulse as physically as possible, and keen to stop him tapping his foot in eighth notes in that fifth bar. Commented May 2, 2020 at 22:45
  • This is a great, great post. What's the reason for tapping with the heel instead of the toe? Seems like a marginal difference to me, and if you practice tapping with the toe, you are better preparing yourself to play the kick drum if you ever decide to take up drumset.
    – Max
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 11:40
  • @Max Thank you, Max. It seems to me the heel has more thump and it makes the beat more solid and authoritative. The upper part of the leg lifts: not just the lower part. So it feels more physical. And if, by mistake, you tap on on a syncopated note, hopefully you'll feel something going wrong. [But all this could just be me: I've got quite small feet! They don't make a lot of noise.] Once the OP's got the problem solved he can tap with anything he likes. [If he switches to kit after all this I'll be livid!] Commented May 3, 2020 at 13:03

As cliche as it sounds, just start small, then build.

First, get the left hand perfectly down that you can do it in your sleep. Just practice it over and over again. This will help you internalize where the beat is.

Next, learn to sing the melody to a metronome. You can find a metronome online, which ticks at a steady beat. Figure out all the subdivisions and be able to sing it perfectly.

Then, play the left hand and sing at the same time. This should not be too different than the step before as the left hand is almost always playing quarter notes.

Then, learn to play the right hand perfectly to a metronome. Then add the voice.

Now, finally, after you can do all the above perfectly, set the metronome extremely slow, and play all the parts together. Just keep practicing it extremely slow until you have it perfect. Then start slowly speeding it up, and voila! You can play all of them together!

I hope that helps! Let me know if you need more clarification or help.

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