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Counting (music)

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Counting (music)

In music, counting is a system of regularly occurring sounds that serve to assist with the performance or audition of music by allowing the easy identification of the beat. Commonly, this involves verbally counting the beats in each measure as they occur. In addition to helping to normalize the time taken up by each beat, counting allows easier identification of the beats that are stressed. Counting is most commonly used with rhythm and form and often involves subdivision.


The method involving numbers may be termed count chant, "to identity it as a unique instructional process."[1]

Example of "count chant" method

In lieu of simply counting the beats of a measure, other systems can be used which may be more appropriate to the particular piece of music. Depending on the tempo, the divisions of a beat may be vocalized as well (for slower times), or skipping numbers altogether (for faster times). As an alternative to counting, a metronome can be used to accomplish the same function.

Triple meter, such as 3/4, is often counted 1 2 3, while compound meter, such as 6/8, is often counted in two and subdivided "One-and-ah-Two-and-ah"[2] but may be articulated as "One-la-lee-Two-la-lee".[2] For each subdivision employed a new syllable is used. For example, sixteenth notes in 4/4 are counted 1 e & a 2 e & a 3 e & a 4 e & a, using numbers for the quarter note, "&" for the eighth note, and "e" and "a" for the sixteenth note level. Triplets may be counted "1 tri ple 2 tri ple 3 tri ple 4 tri ple" and sixteenth note triplets "1 la li + la li 2 la li + la li"[3] (presumably saying "up" or "plus" for "+"). Quarter note triplets, due to their different rhythmic feel, may be articulated differently as "1 dra git 3 dra git".[3]

Rather than numbers or nonsense syllables, a random word may be assigned to a rhythm to clearly count each beat. An example is with a triplet, so that a [6]

"However the counting may be syllabized, the important skill is to keep the pulse steady and the division exact."[2]


There are various ways to count rhythm, from simple numbers to counting syllables to beat placement syllables. Here are a few.

Ta Titi system:

  • Whole Note: Toe / ta-ah-ah-ah
  • Dotted Half Note: Toom / ta-ah-ah
  • Half Note: Too / ta-ah
  • Dotted Quarter Note: Tom / ta-a
  • Quarter Note: Ta
  • 1 Eighth Note: Ti
  • 2 Eighth Notes: Ti-Ti
  • Eighth Note Triplet: Tri-o-la
  • 2 Sixteenth Notes: Tika / Tiri
  • 4 Sixteenth Notes: TikaTika / Tiritiri
  • 2 Sixteenth Notes and 1 Eighth Note: Tika-Ti / Tiri-Ti
  • 1 Eighth Note and 2 Sixteenths: Ti-Tika / Ti-Tiri

This system allows the value of each note to be clearly represented no matter its placement within the beat/measure. The folk song lyric "This Old Man, he played one, he played knick-knack on my thumb, with a knick-knack paddy whack, give my dog a bone, this old man came rolling home" would be said, "titi ta titi ta titi titi titi ti-tiri titi tiriti tiritiri ta titi titi titi ta"

du / du-deh / du-ta-de-ta system! Need more info.

Down-ee up-ee – beats are down, up-beats are up, subdivisions are “ee” but… need more info!

The folksong lyric "This Old Man, he played one, he played knick-knack on my thumb, with a knick-knack paddy whack, give my dog a bone, this old man came rolling home" would be said, "down up down down up down down up down up down up down up-ee down up down-ee-up down-ee-up-ee down down up down up down up down."

Takadimi system: The beat is always called ta. In simple meters, the division and subdivision are always ta-di and ta-ka-di-mi. Any note value can be the beat, depending on the time signature. In compound meters (wherein the beat is generally notated with dotted notes), the division and subdivision are always ta-ki-da and ta-va-ki-di-da-ma.

The note value does not receive a particular name; the note’s position within the beat gets the name. This system allows children to internalize a steady beat and to naturally discover the subdivisions of beat, similar to the down-ee-up-ee system.

The folksong lyric "This Old Man, he played one, he played knick-knack on my thumb, with a knick-knack paddy whack, give my dog a bone, this old man came rolling home" would be said, "tadi ta tadi ta tadi tadi tadi tadimi tadi takadi takadimi ta tadi tadi tadi ta."

Ultimately, musicians count using numbers, “ands” and vowel sounds. Downbeats within a measure are called 1, 2, 3… Upbeats are represented with a plus sign and are called “and” (i.e. 1 + 2 +), and further subdivisions receive the sounds “ee” and “uh” (i.e. 1 e + a 2 e + a). Musicians do not agree on what to call triplets: some simply say the word triplet (“trip-a-let”), or another three-syllable word (like pineapple or elephant) with an antepenultimate accent. Some use numbers along with the word triplet (i.e. “1-trip-let”). Still others have devised sounds like “ah-lee” or “la-li” added after the number (i.e. 1-la-li, 2-la-li).

The folksong lyric "This Old Man, he played one, he played knick-knack on my thumb, with a knick-knack paddy whack, give my dog a bone, this old man came rolling home" in 2/4 time would be said, "one and two one and two one and two and one and two and uh one and two ee and one ee and uh two one and two and one and two."

See also


  1. ^ Improving Rhythm Reading in Middle School Band, p. 36, Lewis H Strouse, Teaching Music; Apr 2007; 14, 5; ProQuest Direct Complete, pg. 35.
  2. ^ a b c Blatter, Alfred (2007). Revisiting music theory: a guide to the practice, p.26. ISBN 0-415-97440-2.
  3. ^ a b Harnum, Jonathan (2004). Basic Music Theory, p.68-70. ISBN 0-9707512-8-1.
  4. ^ a b Nokes, Mark (2009). However, when voiced "tri-pl-et" sounds as "tri-plet"; ergo, an extra sound added to the word triplet can be more effective and truly a three syllable word -- "tri-pa-let". Modern Guitar Method: A Practical Approach, p.35. ISBN 0-9822533-2-X.
  5. ^ "Effects of Rote versus Note Presentations on Rhythm Learning and Retention", p. 118, Patricia K. Shehan, Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Summer, 1987), pp. 117-126.
  6. ^ Gordon (1971) and Bebeau (1982), cited in "A Comparison of Syllabic Methods for Improving Rhythm Literacy", p. 222, Bernadette Colley, Journal of Research in Music Education, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Winter, 1987), pp. 221–235.

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