DJ Mix Tips: Counting Beats

July 5, 2017 by Eric Rhodes

Counting beats is essential to being a great DJ. It’s one of the first things you should learn and understand before starting to mix. Counting beats is actually very simple. (Hopefully, you read my previous post about “Beats, Bars and Phrases,” in which I break down the basic components of a song.) The idea is to count your beats in a “One-Two-Three-Four” pattern starting with the first beat of a phrase. Most phrases are 4 bars (16 beats) or 8 bars (32 beats), so you’ll be counting in either of those patterns. *Since most dance music is written in 8 bar phrases, I will show you what counting beats for an 8 bar pattern looks like. Check it out:

Basic Counting

For starters, I recommend that you find just one song and simply count your way through it. Listen to the changes that take place in the song after you count each 8 bar phrase. For example, try starting with the first chorus from The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face.” As soon as the first beat hits when he says “I can’t feel my face” start counting “ONE, two, three, four. TWO, two, three, four, THREE, two, three, four, FOUR, two, three, four”…all the way up to “EIGHT, two, three, four.” You’ll notice that as soon as you finish saying “EIGHT, two, three, four” the second verse starts. That’s one 8 bar phrase, or 32 beats. Now try counting the following verse all the way through. You’ll find that it consists of two phrases. So, you’ll count up to “EIGHT, two, three, four” twice before getting back to the chorus again.

Why Count Beats?

To understand the importance of counting beats, you must first think of your DJ sets as one long song. Just like I described in “Beats, Bars and Phrases” each song is like a story broken up into chapters. Your DJ sets should be the same way. For example, you don’t want to interrupt The Weeknd’s second verse with a new song, because that “chapter” isn’t finished yet. A great place to start bringing in a new song would be at the beginning of one of the choruses. Throughout that chorus you’ll want to transition over to the new track that you’re mixing in, because that “chapter” is about done. Now, the listener is ready to hear something else.

Matching The Songs Up

In order to make all of this work, the beginning of your new song should have a 32 beat, 8-bar phrase to match the timing of the chorus of “I Can’t Feel My Face.” So, as soon as The Weeknd says “I can’t feel my face,” you’ll start the new song with a “ONE, two, three four” beat count. It should time out so that as soon as the chorus is over you can get rid of “I Can’t Feel My Face” and replaces it with the new bass line or verse from the next song**.

One thing that will make mixing easier is to find songs that have DJ intro and outro edits. In my next post, I’ll describe what those are and where to find them.

*You’ll find that a lot of songs bounce around between 4-bar and 8-bar phrases. Be cognizant of that when counting out your songs.

** Creating a DJ set is an art form. This mixing advice shows you some basic rules and techniques. If something sounds good, but goes against the “rules” then go for it. Use your creativity!

Filed Under: Mobile DJ Performance Tips, Playlists, Songs & Music Charts