Counting 4/4 Time using the 1/16th notes

In this lesson I will demonstrate and explain the methods that I use for counting 4/4 time. Counting time is probably one of the most important skills that you have to learn as a musician but it is also a gateway into the world of creating and composing your own music. Understanding counting is an integral part of composing melody because it controls the underlying rhythm of any melody .

This lesson gets us thinking about counting  4/4 time and shows you what I consider to be the most useful way to do this. In this lesson we will be using a 1/16th note (semi-quaver note) to make the count. This I believe to be the most useful and often used subdivision. Anything smaller than this (1/32 note for example starts to make the counting complicated and ridiculous). Once you can understand and apply the count to the various notes of the subdivisions that you will encounter then we can then go on to look at making some rhythmic examples of phrases over a one or 2 bars. I will then go on to show you how these can be adapted and made into short melodic statements (melodies).

What is 4/4 time and how do I keep count?

4/4 time basically consists of 1 quarter note (crochet ) per beat. It is often referred to as Common Time because it is the most common time signature. Countless piece of music have been written in common time. Counting 4/4 time means you count 4 quarter beats/crochets to the bar. Hence 4/4. Each one of these 4 quarter notes can be split down again into  say 2 x quavers ( 1/8th notes) or 4 x semi-quavers (these are referred to as 1/16 th notes and these are the notes that we will be counting the beat in).

So if we had a bar of 4 quarter notes

                                                                                4     we could then count this in 1/16th notes as

1-2-3-4               2-2-3-4           3-2-3-4             4-2-3-4   using a faster count to count in the same space of time we had counted the 4 x quarter notes.

I then do this count as 

1e-&-a             2-e-&-a            3e-&-a             4e-&-a

either way is acceptable and basically amounts to the same.

Here is a visual  representation showing how the beat is divided firstly into quarter note (crochets) then the equivalent musical time subdivided into 1/8th note (quavers) then into  1/16th note (semiquavers). view as a downloadable PDF

This is the basis of the 1/16 th note count. I will now show you how this can be adapted to the notes from a quaver to a semi-quaver in musical statements which you will most likely encounter in a composition. Counting 4/4 time and in counting generally through any piece of music you will encounter a wide variety of musical notes in a random order so you need a system that you can adapt to the various situations that you will encounter. This is my method for achieving this.

Use this counting method to decipher nusic written in 4/4 time

Using any piece of music written in Common Time , 4/4 time this method basically decodes and translates the various musical values of the notes used into the underlying  1/16th note count and keeps your place within this count irrespective of the note you are actually playing. Using this method you will soon begin to recognise that there are shortcuts that you can apply to the system and you will find yourself adopting these very quickly. For example an 1/8th note uses up  2 beats of the 1/16th note count so could be counted as either 1-e  or as &-a depending where in the musical phrase it occurs relative to other adjacent notes. Don’t  worry if you don’t understand this now it will become clearer in the visual representations that I will provide. Another example is a dotted quaver (1/8th note) which will use up 3 of the 4 beat count hence it could become 1-e-&  or e-&-a if preceded  by a 1/16th note.

Here is an example using a variety of notes. View as a downloadable pdf

Here are some other examples which we will be carrying forward into the next part of the topic ” Composing melodies” in the next lesson. Some of these examples also show how we can fit triplets into the various rhythms and how these effect the counting system we use.

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