Teaching Counting

There are two basic methods of teaching counting: unit counting and meter counting. I prefer the former for my beginners because it produces stronger, more accurate readers.

In unit counting, each quarter-note is counted "one," each half is "one-two," and so on. (I withhold eighth-notes with my beginners. Read about this in another article here.)

A measure with four quarter-notes is "one one one one" and so on.

What happens when one hand has a half-note and the other has two quarter-notes? I advise my students to go with the larger unit, that is, "one two," and we work to see how the second quarter-note comes in "on two" of the half-note.

When one hand has a whole note (in 4/4 counting) and the other has quarters, we have arrived at meter counting quite naturally. Still I don't press it. Some students naturally switch to meter counting at this point, but 90% stick with unit counting. After some months, when hands together is the norm, I begin to mix unit and meter counting so the student hears both methods. To introduce this, I might use a piece that has a whole note in the LH and quarter-half-quarter in the RH to demonstrate how this could be counted "one one-two one" or "one two three four." Again, the student indicates his preference-- whichever is clearer to him. Usually the student doesn't even notice that I have switched gears on him; he just accepts it both ways!

Do not worry that the student "will not feel the downbeat" if you use unit counting. He will feel it when he's musically mature enough to do so, and this is quite variable!

Meter counting doesn't accelerate the ability to feel the downbeat. Teachers often think it does, but not so.

If you want to work on downbeat, marching around the studio is a better tool.

copyright 1996, Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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