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In the film Bohemian Rhapsody, there’s a scene where Queen’s guitarist Brian May is pitching his song We Will Rock You to the band (film clip is below).
He says, “…now, I want you to clap on the third beat.” Of course, this is a movie, and I have no idea if he really said it like that.
Regardless, I’m using this scene as a fun starting point to talk briefly about counting rhythm.
Fact is, when We Will Rock You is counted in the regular way, the beat looks like this:
The completely natural (and intuitive, and correct) way that most people would count this song is:
1 2 3 4
We will, we will
1 2 3 4
When notated as shown in the above sheet music, one would count out the three notes (not beats) verbally this way:
ONE-and TWO = Boom-boom CLAP!
THREE-and FOUR = which is the next Boom-boom CLAP!
This “one-and two-and…” approach is very commonly used for counting out eighth notes.
The most important take away here is that a “standard rock beat,” from which this is obviously taken, has a snare drum hit (in this case the clapping) on beats TWO and FOUR. This is sometimes referred to as the UP beat, or the BACK BEAT.
“…a back beat you can’t lose it…” (The Beatles, Rock n’ Roll Music)
I often notice that when people clap to rock music or any other style with a solid BACK BEAT, they sometimes clap on the DOWN beats (beats ONE and THREE) which is almost blasphemy — just kidding with that last thing. But if you’re a decently hip music fan, you will almost always clap to rock n’ roll, jazz, blues, funk, and the like, on beats TWO and FOUR. (Unless it’s a jazz waltz or something.)
Music fans: Just clap along with the snare drum and you will be fine!
I hope this information is helpful, especially if you are trying to find the right ways to count and notate rhythm in your music.
Here’s the scene: