How important is it to count 1+2+3+4 as you play as opposed to trying to keep time in your head?

know that keeping time and beats is very important, I do. Aside from the justinguitar course I’m doing, I also have a teacher who gives me different assignments in lessons with musical notation. I’m definitely trying to hold each note for the correct amount of time. I find that if I start counting 1+2+ as I get to a place with dotted notes and 1/8th notes for examples, this is so distracting that I stop. It’s almost like when you start learning a language, and it gets more difficult to start translating everyone word someone says instead of doing it automatically. I get very distracted by this, so just try to mentally keep time in my head. Is this blasphemy or something that will hurt me in the long run?

Ian @ihavenoname
Keeping time is important.
Have you tried Justin’s Strumming Machine on the web site as it can do the count for you, under “voice count” I find it very helpful.
Don’t play from standard notation so not able to help on that.


Hello Ian, keeping time is not only important, it’s key! And I’m one that has struggled quite a lot with this. It’s super good that you have a teacher that gives you assignments, do your exercises and trust the process. I’m studying Classical Guitar and this month I have on my plate the dotted quarter notes. I already developed the skill to tap my foot (took quite a lot for me, but again this is key and one needs to persist in the fundamental skills)…back to the dotted quarter notes: while I play the simple melodies and tap my foot I’m 100% sure I’m keeping time without counting but singing the melody in my mind, but in the video the teacher says I need to be able to count aloud as well and to make sure not to skip this step as it’s a skill I need to develop…I found it bloody difficult at the beginning, now it’s 2 weeks I’m doing it as an exercise 5minutes a day and I’m nailing it! But if I practice the melody I just tap my foot and don’t count and know that the notes are where they should be.


So to reiterate it’s very important to understand what keeping time means. It’s NOT about holding a note for a particular amount of time, it’s about making sure you play the note on the beat. You may need to play a short or long note for different songs BUT you always play on the beat.

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Hey Ian,

The only time I’d actually count is sometimes on the lead into the first bar. After that its very much an organic thing, feeling the pulse of the music, and keeping in time with the beat.

For 4/4 timing, the 4 basic pulses are like internal anchors for me, with all the other business of 8ths, 16ths, triplets, dotted notes, ties, accents etc, all dancing around these anchor points.

Cheers, Shane

My opinion - Being able to keep count and doing it every time you play are two different things. It’s a skill like anything else and just needs to be learned. The ability to keep count aloud or in your head is pretty important especially when taking on challenging new rhythmic sections or when playing with others.

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