If you are a singer working with a band, you can be helpful during rehearsals if you know how to begin and are prepared to count in each section of a song. There are three ways you can begin:
- Before the downbeat
- On the downbeat
- After the downbeat
A downbeat is an accented beat that is the first beat of any bar. It’s the point at which the conductor’s baton goes down or the band leader’s head goes down to bring everyone in. Bars make up sections, and sections make up songs.
Using the song “Cecilia” by Paul Simon, let’s divide the song into sections and label them so we can all be talking about the same thing.
For the sake of this discussion, I propose that we use the following section titles and bar lengths:
- Intro – 4 bars
- Chorus 1 – 8 bars
- Chorus 2 – 9 bars
- Verse 1 – 8 bars
- Chorus 3 – 9 bars
- Poh Poh – 3 bars
- Solo – 8 bars
- Jubilation – 8 bars
- Oh – 8 bars
- Coda – 2 bars
This is a little more complicated than I wanted to get into, but it’s the most familiar song I could come up with in a moment’s notice that has examples of all three kinds of beginnings.
Starting On the Downbeat
If you’re performing the song exactly like the original, the band has a four bar intro, and then the vocalist starts right on the downbeat of the fifth bar:
Starting After the Downbeat
The last lyric of the second chorus is “home,” and the next bar begins the verse, and the vocalist comes in AFTER the downbeat on what’s called the “and” of one.
Starting Before the Downbeat
The “Poh Poh” section, as I’m calling it, is an example of the section starting before the downbeat. It is also called a “pick up” or, a fancier term, an “anacrusis.” In this case, the pickup starts on the fourth beat of the bar before the beginning of the section:
And since these concepts can sometimes be better demonstrated, I’ve created a video for you here:
4 thoughts on “The Three Ways to Begin a Song”
Thanks Sandy, the video really put it into perspective.
Yay! So glad!
Very useful, helped me understand a little better how I’m supposed to play that song on the piano too. But … “anacrusis” is pretentious?
Ha! Well, yes, because nobody calls it that “on the street.” If you called it a pickup, everyone would know what you were talking about. If you called it an anacrusis, I think fewer than 25% of musicians on the street would know what that was.