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Counting in my head while playing just makes it harder

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Sexfan, Oct 29, 2009.

  1. Sexfan


    Oct 6, 2009
    I feel as though by just tapping my foot to the beat, I can play in rhythm. But as soon as i try to count in my head, I tend to lose the rhythm because I concentrate on it too much. Should I keep trying to learn to count in my head? or will just tapping my foot to the beat be enough? Even though I don't count i can normally feel where the first beat of each measure is if that matters.
  2. standupright


    Jul 7, 2006
    Phoenix, AZ
    Brownchicken Browncow
    that will work until you need to understand patterns.
  3. Sexfan


    Oct 6, 2009
    Well what is the best method for getting past this? I have been just constantly trying to get my brain to count while my foot taps and I play, but it seems I can only get two of these to work in conjunction. By slowing the rhythms down and practicing over and over will I eventually just break through whatever is blocking my brain from performing all three at once?
  4. If you can play in rhythm ok when tapping your foot - why do you need to count as well?, what would being able to count whilst playing and tapping your foot add to the mix?.
  5. Billnc


    Aug 6, 2009
    Charlotte NC
    When walking a bassline counting is a big help, if you are doing a double chromatic approach, you want to start on beat three etc. It's also crucial for sight reading. It's like any other skill, it needs to be practiced.
  6. When walking, I would say you should be feeling the 4 beats in the bar rather than counting them out. This is like the story of the centipede who fell over when thinking about which leg he moved first!!.

    Double Chromatic Approach? - that's a new on on me I'm afraid.

    I would say that being able to "sight read" is when you get to the point of being able to play something without having to think about it, you see it on the page and it comes out of your fingers, if you still have to count in your head, IMHO, you ain't there yet :).
  7. afromoose

    afromoose Guest

    It should be more difficult because you're doing something else at the same time which requires coordination. Look at it this way, if you were playing drums and you learned what to do with your right hand, left hand, and left foot, and then you wanted to add in a complex right foot pattern, you would expect it to take some time to learn, right? That doesn't mean it will be difficult forever, but just because counting is something that you've done since you were a child doesn't mean that it's gonna be easy to layer it in. It's another limb of coordination effectively. Just slow things down and repeat correctly and relaxed and you'll get it. It's a good skill to have too.
  8. It's the same as everything else - it takes practice. Yes, it's easier to play without counting. But someday, someone is going to ask you to play some syncopated rhythm, and they're going to tell you "play on the and of two and the and of three". You can either give them the deer in the headlights look, or go "Oh yeah - one and two AND three AND four - got it". Then you'll play the lick a few times until you have it internalized, and then you'll stop counting again. Its not something you do while playing, it's something you do in order to figure out a new rhythm or explain it to someone else.

    That's my $.02 anyway.
  9. mileszs


    Aug 19, 2009
    I apologize for being that guy, but sight reading is an actual term with a definition:

    from Wikipedia

    So, counting is useful when attempting to play a piece you have never attempted to play before.

    EDIT: I think I just misread your post, PJSShearer. My bad. I still think the ability to count is a necessity for sight reading, among other applications.

    Being able to count the beats in each measure is a valuable skill for many (any?) musician. (In my opinion) It is incredibly useful in figuring out rhythms, syncing with the drums (or explaining drum patterns to drummers ;-), and often simply in working out songs with your band mates. In other words, it's part of the lingo that goes with being a musician.

    Repeated practice is the answer. Try practicing while counting out loud. Hearing the numbers out loud can really help. Some metronomes or metronome programs written for your computer may have a human voice option. Perhaps you could talk a friend into counting out loud at you as you practice. ;-)
  10. bass player 48

    bass player 48

    Nov 17, 2008
    I say - You have to be able to count... and you have to count riffs, phrases, and bars / measures... I think we all understand that...

    BUT - I don't think you need to count everything you do while you are playing.

    You may not lose track of the 1. That's a rule. The bass player owns the 1. If you can sense the 1, and sometimes the 1 and the 3, you don't HAVE to count.

    Bootsy Collins knows this and has shared it with bass players for many many years. He wrote a song about it and named an album after it!

    Get the album "the one giveth, the count taketh away" land listen to "countracula".

    Hey, uh count-dog, why don't you count it off for us.

    What? Count it off? ONE!

    ..and for anybody who didn't get what the tune was about, here is a youtube of Bootsy spelling it out for you in more of a lesson format:

    Put me firmly in the camp that says you do have to be able to count when you have to - but the bass player does not have to constantly count everything... learning to jam and sense the one is better in my book.
  11. I think there is a difference between counting while playing and counting while learning a song. When I am doing a gig, 95% of the time I never count. It is all about feel. I don't think bass players or drummers have a constant 1,2,3,4 going on in their head everytime they play. I might be wrong and this could be a wall I need to get past too.

    Sight reading and learning a new riff/phrase/groove is essentially the same approach. You have a new piece of music in front of you and you need to know how to interpret it. Sight Reading usually means you have reason to learn it quickly or play correctly right off the bat. Studio/jury/audition. There are tricks to sight reading and different situations where you are faced to do it. You have to go with what works for you and I guarentee in most situations that maintaining the one is way more important when auditioning then taking a stab at a complicated rhythmn and loosing the groove while sight reading. If you don't pass, then the gig wasn't for you or you need to practice sight reading more.

    Counting can help you learn a new rythmn or groove, but the goal i think should be to interntalize that rhythmn and own it so you don't count it. There comes a point where we all can pump out straight 8th notes or a basic dotted-quarter followed by an 8th note groove without counting. Complicated rhythmns are the same way. Keep practicing them and they will get easier.

    Two suggestions though.... Practice with a metronome on beats two and four. Although we may feel like we are hitting the one correctly, we might acutally be rushing. Beats 3 and 4 usually get shafted. Playing a full beat 4 is a fine art. Only the metronome will tell you if you are wrong. Feeling longer notes with less clicks takes a lot of practice.

    Also it is worth mentioning that you don't always have to count. You could use other syllables to sound out rythmns. That helps get the groove in my head and own it.
  12. bass player 48

    bass player 48

    Nov 17, 2008

    That' a good point. I played drums in school, my son is doing the same. getting back to drum basics in my household helped make me realize that bass players should know drum rudiments. You don't count rudiments - they are Onomatopoeia - they are named for how the sound.

    drummers don't count paradiddles: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and...

    The count them par-a-did-dle par-a-did-dle

    That's text book and it's all about feeling the count.
    (it also has accents on 1 and 3 - feel the 1 and the 3...)

    Bootsy baby... The one giveth... the count taketh away!
  13. Febs

    Febs Supporting Member

    May 7, 2007
    Philadelphia, PA
    I think that PJSShearer's point (and I agree) is that when you have achieved sufficient proficiency at sight-reading, you no longer need to count in order to figure out rhythms. It's very much like learning to read. When you are first learning, you need to think about each individual letter in every word. Over time, you begin to recognize words as words rather than as a collection of individual letters, but you still need to think about each word in the sentence individually. With more experience, you can start to read sentences and understand what the writer is trying to convey without having to think about the function or meaning of each individual word in that sentence.

    Reading music is a similar process. Counting is part of the process of learning how to take individual notes of various durations and figure out where that note is played within a measure. In the same way that you stop reading individual letters and start recognizing whole words, you eventually learn to look at a measure of music and understand where each note is to be played without ever having to consciously think about the individual beats in the measure.

    Take the following figure, for example:


    Someone just beginning to learn to read music might work out the measure like this: "The first note is an eighth note, so that gets half a beat. The second note is a quarter note, so that gets a full beat." And so on.

    A more advanced reader might be able to look at that measure and, without having to consciously think about eighth notes, quarter notes, etc., recognize that it is played "one and two and three and four and one two three four." That person understands the duration of each note written on the page, but still needs to count to himself to be able to play the notes in the right place.

    People who can truly sight-read have reached the point where they can look at my example, and just play it. They don't need to consciously think about which notes are quarter notes and which are eighth notes. They can look at the measure as a whole and recognize which notes fall on the upbeat and which fall on the down beat, and play the measure without ever consciously counting the beats.
  14. Billnc


    Aug 6, 2009
    Charlotte NC

    Oh PJSShearer, double chromatic is a walk up or down to a target note i.e. C,C# to D or vice versa. You've probably just called it something else.
  15. Sexfan- I count 'in my head' when I'm working on a part or trying to learn new patterns. But I can't do it when I'm playing for real. The time it takes me to count, puts me behind everyone else. Then the rest of the band starts giving me dirty looks and threatens to cut off my bar tab.
    When I'm gigging, I have to be able to feel it.
  16. bass player 48

    bass player 48

    Nov 17, 2008
    BTW – I just read through this whole thread again… It seems like everybody who has posted agrees in almost every way, even if they say it different ways.

  17. I've never heard it called anything actually!!.

    Does it then follow that a walk from C to E - which I would play as C, D, E - is a double diatonic?.:)
  18. Exactly, although the treble clef nearly caught me out!!.

    Some pedants might say that that figure should be written as tied 1/8th notes, so it is easier to see where the beats fall, but writing it that way is common enough and, because I'd seen it a million times before, I wouldn't have to think about it - in fact I automatically sang it in my head as I scrolled past it!!.

    Sight Reading was given to me as an example of of a "conditioned reflex" by a Biology teacher back in Secondary School. Like Pavlov's Dogs who salivated when they heard the bell signifying feeding time - whether any food was around or not - I would see the notes on the page and play them without any concious thought.
  19. Billnc


    Aug 6, 2009
    Charlotte NC
    Ask Ed Friedland! But it could also be called a passing diatonic tone, or a fragmentary tetrachord.:)
  20. I completely agree with the above posts (with my emphases noted).
    Proper counting also helps enable you to correctly count of the beginning of a song. I've played with some guys who have no idea how to count off a song (e.g. wrong tempo, incorrect time signature, etc.)

    Check out Bill Ward counting off "1, 2, 3, 4" to a song that starts off in 3/4 time (at least it was in the right tempo).


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