Connecticut Shoreline Studio for Music Lessons
in Voice, Piano, & the Fundamentals of Music

All Skill Levels Welcome, Ages 4 -104

Connecticut Shoreline Studio for Music Lessons
in Voice, Piano, & the Fundamentals of Music

Clef Notes

How to Count “Pickups”

Counting Pickups

What Is a Pickup?

In music, a pickup is an unstressed lead-in note or group of notes that take place before the first accented note of a phrase. They can also be known as:

  • an incomplete measure
  • upbeat, or
  • the posh name of anacrusis

Before we can talk about counting in pickups, though, we need to discuss what we mean by “counting in.”

You’ll Need to Know How to “Count In”

Learning to “count in” when working with other musicians is a valuable skill. Before you can do it properly, you will need to know the following:

  • What your tempo is
  • What the time signature is
  • How to use a metronome to establish your tempo

How to Count in Songs Starting on the Downbeat

If the student’s music starts on the downbeat or the “1” of the first bar, then we’re all set. Most primer level song books use songs that begin in this way. For example, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” starts on the “1.” If you notate it in 2/4 time, the count would be “1, 2,” and then you sing or play the first note on the next beat.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

How to Count in Songs Starting on a Pickup

If the song starts on a pickup, then we have some things to talk about before the student can count us in.

Let’s use the song “Happy Birthday” as an example. Most musicians would notate it in this manner:

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday Pickup

Now let’s try a song in 6/8 time.

Itsy Bitsy Spider

Itsy Bitsy Spider Pickup

Two more examples of song that start with pickups are “The Star Spangled Banner” and “All My Lovin'” by the Beatles. See if you can figure out how to count them in.

One Last Detail

Since pickups form a partial measure and take place at the beginning of a piece, and they must always be completed at the end of the song by another partial measure so that if you combined the two, they would make a complete measure.

For example, the first and last bars of “Happy Birthday” would look like this:

Happy Birthday Beginning and End

I hope you find this helpful and can now embark on counting in any and every song that you want to.

Happy counting!

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