How do I count rests?
Question: I'm tapping out rhythm with rests. How do I count rests out in my head? **e.g. one, two, three or one-and-two-and-three. I'm not sure how to handle rests when I'm counting out the rhythm. Thanks, Simon

Answer: The thing about rests is that they're just like notes, but you can't hear them.

A rest has as much right to time as its equivalent note and deserves respect.

How you count notes and rests depends on the meter and tempo, though this is also a matter of personal preference. I'll give some examples:

"Simple" meters are all those in which the beat is carried by a plain undotted note, such as 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 2/2, 4/8, 5/4. Since the beat in a simple meter is divisible by two you can count the beat either in whole numbers (if it's really fast), "One, Two Three, Four!" Or if it's a bit slower you can keep better time by dividing the beat in halves: "1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and." The slower the beat, the better it is to subdivide mentally (we're not suggesting you do this out loud!). In a really slow 4/4, for example, you could divide the beat in four parts: "1-a-and-a, 2-a-and-a," etc.

In other words, in a simple meter a quarter rest or a quarter note could be counted either as "one, or "one and," or "one-a-and-a," depending on the speed. Or you can think, "1 bop bop bop, 2 bop bop bop," whatever works for you, just remembering that the beat is dividing in even halves or quarters.

"Compound" meters are those in which the beat is counted by a dotted note. In compound meter the beat therefore divides in three, and can be counted as "1 and a, 2 and a." If it's very very slow you could even break each beat down into six: "1-a and-a and-a, 2-a and-a and-a," but fortunately that's not usually going to be necessary. In the most common compound meter, a quick 6/8, the dotted quarter note or dotted quarter rest is one beat, and therefore is "1 and a" or "2 and a." Another common compound meter is 12/8, which is like 4/4 except that each of the 4 beats in the measure divides in three instead of dividing in 2 or 4. So in 12/8 you count "1 and a, 2 and a, 3 and a, 4 and a:"

There's more along these lines in Chapter III of Exploring Theory with Practica Musica, where you also will find some talk about mental conducting as a way of counting time.

BONUS Followup question: Thanks for replying. I'm still a little confused. Here's my question...

Take a simple 4/4 meter....

1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and | 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and | etc...

1 and 2 = 1 beat

2 and 3 = 2 beats

3 and 4 = 3 beats

4 and = 1/2 beat

To me that seems like 3 1/2 beats per measure, but it's obviously 4. How come you count the other half beat, before going onto the next measure?

Answer: I love followup questions.

The first beat is really just "1 and," not "1 and 2."

The second beat starts on the "2," and is "2 and."

So there are four beats - the "and" represents the second half of each beat.

Maybe what's throwing you is that you didn't realize the "and" is part of the count - you thought it was just there in print to join to the 2. We could as easily say "1, bop," "2, bop," etc. to have something to say on the half beat.

If so, then in a compound meter we'd say "1 bop bop, 2 bop bop" - whatever it takes to help think of the divisions of the beat.

Followup to Followup!: Sweet! I wasn't expecting such a quick reply! Thanks.

I understand now what your saying when "1 and" is one beat etc.

So taking a simple 4/4 meter again....

Am I correct to say that you're really using the "and" to work out the eighth notes?

Also say if your counting "1-a-and-a-2-a-and-a" etc, are you're using the "a" to work out any sixteenth notes?

Answer to Followup to Followup: Yep, that's exactly right. The "and" is a random sound to make in between the beats. Could be anything.

And if you want to divide a quarter note into 4 sixteenths, "1-a-and-a" is as good as anything else.

What people sometimes miss is that when counting like this you keep counting through long notes too; keeps them in time.

So if you were counting sixteenths like that and were presented with a half note (or half rest), you'd still think, "1-a-and-a 2-a-and-a" to use up its time.

Eventually you get to more of an instinctive method that doesn't involve actual counting even if the small values might be humming along in your head as you do longer notes. And you start to just feel the beat. But dividing is always useful when the rhythm is tricky, and dividing also helps keep you from accidentally speeding up.

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