How Note Beat Relationships Work with the Time Signature

Here’s where we begin to get it together in counting rhythm beats.  The fun is about to begin. We are going to spend a lot of time here, because this is the foundation that will launch you to new heights in your ability to play music.

A beat gets one count. 

4/4 Time Signature

Let look at time signature of 4/4. Quarter note gets one beat and one count. So our basic counting is “one – two – three – four” for the following measure. 

count rhythm 4-4

Each quarter note gets a beat count and a clap.

Try it now several times in a row until it feels smooth. 

2/2 Time Signature

Now look at the 2/2 time signature


Each half note gets a beat count and a clap. Try it several times in a

row until it feels smooth.

3/4 Time Signature

Next up let’s look at the 3/4 time signature, we are back to counting quarter notes as our beat and with three beats per measure. Try this one.


6/8 time signature

Now its 6/8 time using the eight note as our beat count.


Counting With Other Notes

So far we have really just looked at the straight beat and worked with time signature beat notes that line up with every beat in our measure.
Let’s explore 6/8 time in our rhythm counting beats effort. Here an eighth note will get one beat and quarter notes will get two beats. Where it says hold keep your hands together.


Did you catch the change in clapping in the second measure? Remember that a quarter note gets twice as many counts because it takes two eighth notes to make a quarter note. Therefore we clap and hold. 

We say hold here because if we where playing a keyboard we would play the quarter note and hold it through two beats (counts 1 & 2 of the second measure).

Adding A Variety Of Notes

Let’s move it up a notch. Here try it again with dotted notes and half notes.
The → is used to indicate continue to hold.


Eighth note gets one clap per beat

The half notesingle-half-note (4 single-eighth-note notes) gets one clap for four beats
(count 3 4 5 & 6)

The dotted quarter note (3 single-eighth-note notes) gets one clap for 3 beats (2nd measure counts 1 2 & 3)

The quarter note (2 single-eighth-note notes) gets one clap for 2 beats (count 5 & 6)

Practice this a few times to get the feel of it.

Download this practice sheet to help you master the basic rhythm counting.

Link: Rhythm Counting Practice Sheet #2

That’s the basic idea behind counting rhythm and how the rhythm counting beats is held for different note types and values, This takes a bit of practice, but you can take sheet music with the basic beat counts and count note rhythm by labeling with the count.

Learning Resources