Theory Made Easy - Time Structures 10

Lead-in and Count-in

What is a Lead-in?

Not every piece of music starts on the first beat of the bar.

Where you have some notes before the bar line this is called a lead-in.

This should be thought of as a bit added on to the front of the tune

i.e. if you have an eight bar verse the bar containing the lead in is not part of these eight bars.

See the tab for an example of a simple lead-in.



A proper count-in is obviously important. Every musician should be able to do this.

The count-in sets the tempo at which the piece is to be played and indicates the point where everything starts.

In a straightforward piece in 4/4 time where the tune starts on the first beat of the bar the count-in would be the obvious 1 - 2 - 3 - 4.

If you look at the tab example of a lead-in you can see that the lead-in starts on beat 3.
In this case you could count 1 - 2 and start on beat 3 but the count of 1 - 2 is not enough to establish the tempo. You should count 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 1 - 2.

In a piece in 3/4 time your count-in would be 1 - 2 - 3.

In a piece in 6/8 time some people would count-in 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6.
I personally tend to count this in as 1 - 2 - 3 - 1 - 2 - 3 as most rhythms in this time seem to break down to units of 3.

In pieces that are not in 4/4 time try to make your count-in fit with the rhythm of the piece.

Establishing the tempo

A common occurrence in live music gigs is to play at the wrong speed - usually too fast.
If you had a flashing light metronome you could use it to establish the tempo before counting in.

If like most of us you don't have this luxury, the thing to do is to imagine the tune being played at the correct speed then tap your foot along to the tune in your head - once you have the tempo established with your foot then start the count-in in time with your foot tap.

This is worth practicing as it can make for accurate renditions of your tunes in a live situation.


Practice count-ins as an important part of your music. Don't rely on drummers.