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: