Here are some examples of counted passages, including the downbeats/upbeats and the numeric counting and syllables. As we progress, some guidelines will be pointed out to help you count rhythmic passages on your own.
Work to understand the counting system by reading the notation, listening to the recording, and playing each example.
The 4/4 time signature is a simple meter. The concepts of 4/4 counting (syllables) apply to all simple meters.
Guideline: Count All Beats
The passage below includes some half notes, which receive two beats. Notice that both beat numbers are notated, even though you only play a new note on the first beat of the half note. You want to always know which beat in the measure you are on, so always count the numbers (even if a new note does not start on the beat).
Guideline: Count Only to the Level Needed
Notice that these examples include mostly downbeats. The upbeats and “&” syllables are only shown where the eighth notes occur. This is our next guideline of typical counting – only count to the level that is needed to understand the rhythm. This passage has no sixteenth notes, so there are no “e” and “a” syllables included in the counting.
Noteworthy: It is called subdivision when we intentionally count syllables that are smaller that the current note. While this is a great practice technique to learn how notes fit within each other (for example, 4 eighth notes fit into a half note), the goal is to understand rhythms well enough that you can count at the highest possible level, as illustrated below.