Talking Rhythm: Counting 16th Notes | Easy Ear Training
Talking Rhythm

Ever wondered how to count 16th note rhythms? Have you seen the notation for a complex syncopated rhythm and wondered how you could possibly play that? The first step is learning how to count out notation. While this may seem daunting at first, the reality is that counting rhythms not only helps you develop great musicianship, but can be fun, too!

In the last article Counting 101 (2, 3, 4) you learned how to count basic rhythms with quarter notes, rests, and 8th notes using the count chant method. If you haven’t had a chance to practice simple exercises to count rhythms like the one below from Counting 101 (2, 3, 4), then take a moment to check out this article.

TR3 COUNT EX 1

The Secret Rhythm Language of Drummers

Drummers seem to have a musical language all of their own as they dissect complicated 16th note rhythms like the one below.TR3 16 EX 1

Let’s take a moment to dissect what you are hearing. In this simple counting method, musicians use the syllables “e”, “and”, or “ah” to denote 16th note rhythms. Using the syllables “1-e-and-ah” to count out 16th notes, the musician can easily count out a complicated syncopated rhythm. As mentioned in the previous part of this series, rests and long notes are usually counted in the head silently. If you look at the rhythm above, you can see that in the syncopated rhythms, rests like the “and” of beat 2 are not spoken out loud.

Counting 16th Notes

Now let’s see how to count simple 16th note rhythms. Before you begin the examples, practice saying “1-e-and-ah-2-e-and-ah-3-e-and-ah-4-e-and-ah” a few times in a row.

“1-e-and-ah-2-e-and-ah-3-e-and-ah-4-e-and-ah”

Once you are comfortable counting these syllables out loud, move on to the recorded examples below.

Review these simple examples below. In this example the musician is counting out 16th notes using short syllables like “e” and “ah” for the 16th notes.
TR3 16 EX2

Listen to the audio several times. Practice reading the music notation and counting with the audio sample. If you can, try to tap your foot as you count. Learn how to internalize the pulse by tapping your foot as you practice counting.

Exercise 1: Counting 16th Notes

Listen to the example below and practice counting 16th note rhythms. In this exercise, you will practice counting 16th notes and dropping out syllables. Practice this exercise several times. Identify the patterns used in this exercise. Learn to recognize these patterns by sight and by ear.

  1. Listen to the recorded example carefully.
  2. Practice counting with the audio example.
  3. If you can, try to tap your foot as you count.
  4. Set your metronome to a moderate tempo.
  5. Practice counting out loud without the audio example.

TR3 EXER 1

Exercise 2: More 16th Note Patterns

After working on Exercise 1, try working on the rhythms in Exercise 2. If you find these difficult, try to recognize the 16th note patterns from the first exercise. Which patterns are the same? Which are different?

  1. Listen to the recorded example carefully.
  2. Practice counting with the audio example.
  3. If you can, try to tap your foot as you count.
  4. Set your metronome to a moderate tempo.
  5. Practice counting out loud without the audio example.

TR3 16 EXER2

TR3 16 N EXER 3

More Practice

Start trying to count out rhythms in the pieces you play. Do you feel comfortable counting 16th note rhythms? If not, continue using exercises like the ones above with new rhythms. Once you feel comfortable with these exercises, try to improvise with your instrument or voice. Create interesting melodies and riffs that have these 16th note patterns.

Make learning rhythm a group project! Invite your friends over to practice rhythm with you. Set up a chord structure that you like and then jam away with your friends.

Wrap-up

Now you have learned some of the basic counting methods for counting 16th note patterns. Download the audio files and listen to them everyday on your iPhone or in your car. Over time, you will see that you no longer have to count these rhythms out loud. Instead you will internalize them.

Have any questions? Are there some examples that you would like to expand on? What are your thoughts about rhythm? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Series Information
This is part 3 of 7 in the Talking Rhythm series.

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