How to Count in 5/8 Time

By Robert Russell
A metronome makes the job easier to count 5/8 time.

The ability to count time is an essential skill for musicians. Playing music with odd meters or time signatures, such as 5/8, represents more of a challenge for a musician than playing music in 4/4 time. A predominant time signature in music is 4/4 time, feeling natural and comfortable for musicians and listeners, alike. On the other hand, 5/8 time has an odd number of beats. Dancing to 5/8 music would be incredibly difficult for most people. Learning to count and play in 5/8 time takes time and patience. The goal is to make 5/8 time feel as natural as 4/4 time.

Compare 5/8 time with 4/4 time. 5/8 time differs significantly from 4/4 time. The majority of popular music is written in 4/4 time. 4/4 time results in an even number of beats that can be counted in succession, 1-2-3-4. 5/8 time, on the other hand, results in an odd number of beats, 1-2-3-4-5. The bottom number in the time signature indicates the duration value of a note. The bottom "4" in 4/4 time indicates that a quarter notes receives one beat. The "8" in the 5/8 time signature indicates that an eighth note receives one beat. The upper number indicates how many beats per measure.

Practice counting 5/8 time with a metronome. Set the metronome at a slow speed, such as 40 beats per minute, clap on beat one and count the beats. Simply clap and count 1-2-3-4-5, clapping on the first beat. Repeat the exercise and clap on both the first and the fifth beats. Clapping on the fifth and first beat helps to develop a feel for the odd meter. Gradually increase the speed of the metronome and repeat the exercises.

Divide the measure into two sections. A common technique that musicians use to count 5/8 time is to divide measure into two sections, rather than counting the measure 1-2-3-4-5. The five beats can be divided in different ways, but the two most common ways are to count 1-2-3/1-2 and 1-2/1-2-3. Practice the counting and clapping exercises with the metronome. Clap only on the "1" in each section.

About the Author

Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.