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Reading rhythm, part 3: counting beats in bars

(Note: this article contains musical symbols that might not display on mobile devices. I recommend reading it on a desktop/laptop if so.)

3 rules for reading rhythm

Let’s do an experiment.

I’m going to give you 3 rules about rhythm notation, and then we’re going to analyze my arrangement of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” from my Intermediate Classical course and see how many others we can work out.

Here are the 3 rules, true for all pieces:

  1. the 1st note* after a bar line is always on the 1st beat of the bar
  2. the length of a note* tells you when the next note* is happening
  3. if 2 notes* are vertically above each other on the staff they’re played at the same time

*(or rest)

And in this particular piece the bottom note of the time signature is a 4, so:

𝅘𝅥 = 1 beat

(Consult my note lengths chart again if that doesn’t sound familiar.)

Ready? Okay, let’s go.

Counting beats in a bar

So we were actually able to work out that if

𝅘𝅥 = 1 beat

then

𝅝 = 4 beats

𝅗𝅥 = 2 beats

and

𝅘𝅥𝅮 = ½ a beat

In other words, we worked out the first 4 rows of the chart I showed you in the previous tutorial (again, click the image to download the PDF):

Plus we worked out that:

  • a dot after a note multiplies its length by 112

So if

𝅘𝅥 = 1 beat

then

𝅘𝅥 . = 112 beats

and if

𝅗𝅥 = 2 beats

then

𝅗𝅥 . = 3 beats

They’re called dotted notes and require a mini-post all to themselves.