How to Play Songs on the Piano with Pickup Measures - dummies

By Hal Leonard Corp., Adam Perlmutter

Some songs actually begin with rests. That’s right: The performer walks out on stage, sits at the piano, and rests for a few beats before hitting a single note. Rather than give you a long and boring explanation for this, let’s discuss pickup beats and measures.

The first two notes of the song “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain” actually fall on beats 3 and 4 of a measure of 4/4 time.

These two melody notes are called pickup notes, perhaps because they pick up the beat and start the song. (The fancy musical term for pickup notes is anacrusis.) How nice of them! To play “She’ll Be Coming ’Round the Mountain,” you start with a half rest and count “1, 2, She’ll be ….”

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Rather than note a bunch of rests at the beginning, the composer can write a pickup measure, which contains only that part of the measure that’s played or sung. In other words, the pickup measure eliminates any rests before picking up the tune. Check out the notation.

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To play and count songs with pickup measures, follow three easy steps:

  1. Note the meter.

  2. Rest for the number of “missing” beats.

  3. Play the pickup notes, and away you go.

Hundreds of songs begin with pickup measures, including “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Oh, Susannah.” Listen to these songs to get an idea of how it should sound.