Guide to Counting Common Rhythms

Counting Simple Rhythms

All of the musical examples are shown in 4/4 time until the section on compound time signatures. The counting method shown in 4/4 can easily be adapted to any other simple time signature. Commas are used to separate each beat, while dashes '-' are used to separate different words in the same beat. Words enclosed in parentheses are optional. '+' is used in the music to represent the word 'and' in order to reduce clutter in the musical examples.

Whole Notes

Count "one, two, three, four."

How to count whole notes

Half Notes

Count "one, two, three, four."

How to count half notes

Quarter Notes

Count "one, two, three, four."

How to count quarter notes

Eighth Notes

Count "one - and, two - and, three - and, four - and."

How to count 8th notes


Count "one - trip - let, two - trip - let, three - trip - let, four - trip - let."

How to count 8th note triplets

Sixteenth Notes

Count "one - e - and - a, two - e - and - a, three - e - and - a, four - e - and - a" for steady sixteenth notes.

Counting 16th notes

Below is a chart of common sixteenth note rhythms and how they are counted. Anything in parentheses is optional.

Rhythm Example
gallop How to count a gallop rhythm
reverse gallop How to count a reverse gallop
sixteenth / eighth / sixteenth Counting a 16th, 8th, 16th note rhythm
dotted eight / sixteenth Counting a dotted 8th / 16th rhythm
sixteenth / dotted eighth Counting a 16th / dotted 8th rhythm

Sixteenth Note Triplets

Count "one - trip - let - and - trip - let, two - trip - let - and - trip - let, three - trip - let - and - trip - let, four - trip - let - and - trip - let."

How to count 16th note triplets

Thirty-second Notes

Thirty-second notes are often too fast to count every note, so they are usually counted like sixteenth notes, with two notes to each count.

Counting 32nd notes by keeping track of the 16th notes

An alternative is to count "one - e - and - a - and - e - and - a, two - e - and - a - and - e - and - a, three - e - and - a - and - e - and - a, four - e - and - a - and - e - and - a."

How to count 32nd notes by counting each 32nd

Counting in Compound Time Signatures

Counting in 6/8

Count eighth notes as "one - two - three, two - two - three." The count for other common rhythms is shown below:

Counting in 6/8

Counting in 9/8

Eighth notes should be counted as "one - two - three, two - two - three, three - two three."

Counting in 9/8

Counting in 12/8

Count eighth notes as "one - two - three, two - two - three, three - two - three, four - two - three."

Counting in 12/8

Counting in Complex Time Signatures

Complex time signatures are time signatures like 5/4 or 7/8. These time signatures are usually divided into groups of twos, threes, and fours. The beaming of eighth note and smaller note values will show how the beats are grouped. The grouping of the beats is important because it affects how you count each group. Because beats in these time signatures are usually grouped into twos, threes, and fours, you should count each individual group of beats as shown below:

The counting rules given previously can be used to deal with any subdivisions in these time signatures.

Counting in 5/4

5/4 is usually a combination of two and three or three and two.

Two Followed by Three

The grouping of two and three should be counted "one, two, one two three" as shown below:

Counting the 2/3 grouping in 5/4

Three Followed by Two

Three/two should be counted as "one, two, three, one, two."

Counting the 3/2 grouping in 5/4

Counting in 7/4

7/4 is usually a group of three followed by a group of four or a group of four followed by group of three. It is also possible to have groupings that include twos, but these are less common.

Three Followed by Four

Count the three/four grouping "one, two, three, one, two, three, four."

Counting the 3/4 grouping in 7/4

Four Followed by Three

Count the four/three grouping "one, two, three, four, one, two, three."

Counting the 4/3 grouping in 7/4