5 Minute Piano Lessons: Counting Music

Music is sound waves played over a period of time.  A pianist must learn to count and feel it while he plays.  The closest archetype that demonstrates this is the tick of a clock.  Sixty ticks a minute tells us whether we will be late or early to an appointment, how long until the next hour, when school will be over.  In music the tick varies depending on how fast or slow the song is.  It could be 80 beats a minute (which is faster), or 42 beats (slower).  Military marches tend to go twice as fast as a second (120 beats per minute).

One thing to realize in all of this, music has a beginning, middle, and an end.  It doesn’t stop until it wants to.  This means that whether fast or slow, music is constantly moving at a steady pace to whatever end the composer made for it.

Tick tock

Let’s learn the basics of counting.  The magic number here is 4.

Mimic the steady beat of a clock by counting to 4 three times back to back (you might want to tap your foot or clap while doing this).  You have just counted three measures of music.

A measure is usually four beats long.  A song is made of measures tied together.  For example: a pop song that lasts two minutes, with ticks going 60 beats per minute, will have 30 measures in it.  If it is 120 beats a minute, it will have 60 measures.  The measure can be counted fast or slow depending on the tick.  In music we call the tick a count or a beat.

Try this the next time you’re in your car.  Listen to a popular song on the radio, preferably dance music.  Try and count out the measures.  It doesn’t matter how many measure there are, just count a steady 1 2 3 4, over and over until you feel the beat.  Basic dance music is really easy to do this with.  Every time you hear that low boom and high tap done as so: boom tap boom tap, you have just heard a single measure of music.  Boom tap boom tap is counted 1 2 3 4.

Most dance tunes are done 120 beats per minute.  This means you will be counting the measure rather fast.

Exercise 1

Place your hands in C position.  With your R. H. play and count a C major scale.  Each key of the 8 note scale is a beat of music.  This means you will be counting for two measures.  Do the same with the L.H.

Remember to play slowly now.  The idea is to get you counting as you play, which can be very difficult.  It is important for a musician to feel the beats while he plays though.   Learn to do this now while it’s easy.

Preparing for harder rhythms

More difficult tunes have very complicated rhythms.  Sometimes a song will seemingly ignore the beats, choosing instead to play around them.  Just listen to some fast jazz songs to get an understanding of this.

If you manage to catch the bass guitar thumping a steady tune in a jazz piece, he is keeping the beat well enough for you to count out the measures.  This will also allow everyone else to play around that beat.  Even if an instrumentalist isn’t playing on the beat, he is counting the beats and measures in his head: 1 2 3 4/ 1 2 3 4/ 1 2 3 4, just like you are learning to do.

Learn how to count and play while it’s easy.

The time may come when you will have to play off beat.  The only way to do this is to understand where the beat you aren’t playing is.  The only way to do that is to count it out in your head as you play…  All this is miles down the road.  For now, practice playing your scales slowly and counting.

Exercise 2

After mastering the 1st exercise, play the scale up with both hands (while counting the two measures of course).  Now play and count them down with both hands, starting on the very top C.

More lessons to peruse at your leisure

Happy piano playing!

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