Are Pickups Measures?

Piano Lessons / bach / Are Pickups Measures?

Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. The question today is, are pickups measures? Let’s say a piece is in 3/4 time, and it starts with a quarter note. Is that a measure? For example, in the Beethoven Sonata Opus 49 No. 2, the famous G major Sonata, the second movement starts with a dotted 8th and 16th. Then there’s a bar line right after that. Are those first two notes, the dotted 8th and 16th, a measure? They’re in a box. Well, the movement is in 3/4 time. 3/4 time tells you there are three beats in each measure and the quarter note gets one beat. Since you only have one beat total with a dotted 8th and 16th, this can’t possibly be a measure. This is a pickup, sometimes called an anacrusis.

A pickup is simply a beat (or beats) before the first measure (or other measures).

After the first bar line comes the first measure. The pickup notes are not a measure. When learning a piece in 3/4 time that starts with pickups, each phrase starts on the third beat and ends on the second beat. The whole piece is kind of juxtaposed starting with the third beat. An interesting thing that you may have noticed in most pieces that have pickups is that they almost always end on beat that make up the time from the beginning. So indeed, if you look at the end of the movement of this Beethoven Sonata, it only has only two beats in the last measure !And yes, that is considered a measure even though it only has two beats. This is because it starts with a pickup on the third beat and ends on the second beat. You could actually loop it back to the beginning. Now this doesn’t repeat. Although sometimes, you will have repeated sections with da capos or repeat signs that will repeat with pickup. You’ll have a partial measure at the end and the pickup at the beginning. It all works seamlessly! So that’s the way pickups work.

Remember, pickups are not measures.

The first measure comes after the bar line. If you don’t have a complete measure, even if it’s two beats out of four, those would be two beat pickups. If you don’t have a complete measure at the very beginning of a piece after the time signature, that is considered a pickup. Take a look at the last measure of a piece that starts off without enough beats, and nine times out of 10, it’s made up for in the last measure. That’s an interesting little fact for you! You count that note at the beginning backwards from the first measure. That’s why the first note of this movement would be counted as three, not one. You never have two first beats in a row. You know that after the bar line is the first beat. So the beat before the first beat of the measure must be the third beat.

That’s everything you need to know about pickups!

I hope that’s cleared things up for you! I’m sure a lot of you are already well aware of this, but I thought I’d make this video in case there’s any confusion for anybody. Thanks so much for joining me. I’m Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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4 thoughts on “Are Pickups Measures?”


    1. By practicing a great deal with no pedal, it is possible to utilize the pedal as a sound enhancement tool instead of a crutch to connect with the pedal what you can connect with your hands. If I were to play this movement with no pedal, it wouldn’t sound fundamentally different. However, the brief touches of pedal allow the harmonies of the strong beats to have a richer sound.

  1. That’s a piece I memorized, so I don’t remember what the score looks like. I would love to have seen the score in your video. The fact that the left hand plays on the pick-up is confusing. Yes, I knew it was a pick-up, and not a measure. Very interesting and informative video as always.

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