Counting in 4/4 and cut-time
The rhythmic framework we call 4/4 time consists of a cycle of four beats divided into four subdivisions each. Each subdivision is a 16th note, and the count goes like this: 1 ee and uh, 2 ee and uh, 3 ee and uh, 4 ee and uh.
The following chart represents one cycle—or measure—of 4/4 time, and each box represents one 16th note. To make the count fit in the boxes, I use “e + a” for the syllables “ee and uh”:
Many drummers and other
musicians find it easier to function in this rhythmic framework by counting in
“cut-time.” On my charts in
cut-time, the 4/4 measure with 16 boxes is replaced by two measures with 8
boxes each. Each box represents an
8th note, and the count (which repeats twice in the cycle) goes “1
and 2 and 3 and 4 and.” Notice
that this puts the pulse on beats 1 and 3:
I almost always count and chart rhythms in cut-time rather than 4/4. I find it easier to work with two smaller measures rather than one long one. I also find it easier to have a number as a reference point every two subdivisions rather than every four. And I get confused by all the different syllables used in 4/4 counting.
The one situation in which I’ll count in 4/4 is when I’m counting just the main beats—the pulses. Then I’ll count “1, 2, 3, 4” rather than “1, 3, 1, 3.”
Changing from counting in 4/4 to cut-time or vice versa doesn’t affect the feeling or speed of a rhythm or song. It only changes the names and numbers assigned to the beats and subdivisions.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter how you count a rhythm, or even whether you count at all. What matters is that you feel the rhythmic framework internally while you play. I call a rhythmic framework a “grid” for short, and whether you call it 4/4 or cut-time, the grid you feel internally while you play should have this structure: