Note Values & Rests

Confused about note values and rests? Here are your answers! In this lesson you'll learn how to divide the notes, and how to understand exactly how long (or short) a note or rest can be!

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What a Musical Note Can Show Us

A musical note can show us two things:

  1. Duration: The duration or how long or short the note is, this is also called note value.
  2. Pitch: When placed on a music staff, the note also shows the pitch, which means how high or low a note is.
Note values and rests.Notes and their duration from the longest to the shortest. (Left to right).

Note values are Fractions

There are two commonly used ways of naming the different notes. Here is a comparison:

  • Whole note = Semibreve
  • Half note = Minim
  • Quarter note = Crotchet
  • Eight note = Quaver
  • 16th note = Semiquaver
  • 32nd note = Demisemiquaver
  • 64th note = Hemidemisemiquaver
  • 128th note = Semihemidemisemiquaver (Phew!)

The names, as you can see, indicates that they are fractions. Each note value is a part of a whole note, and that gives them their names:

Note values
  • 1 = Whole Note. We often say it lasts for 4 counts since the most common note to count beats with is the quarter note (1/4). But this can change, since a whole note can also be counted as 2 half notes (1/2), or 8 eight notes (1/8), etc.
  • 1/2 = Half Note
  • 1/4 = Quarter Note. Usually said to last one beat. But this can also change, if you count 8th notes as 1 beat  for example.
  • 1/8 = Eight Note
  • 1/16 = Sixteenth Note
  • 1/32 = 32nd Note
  • 1/64 = 64th Note

Rests

In music there are also silences, and those are called rests. Each note value has a corresponding rest of the same length.

Note values: RestsRests: Whole, Half, Quarter, 8th, 16th, 32nd and 64th rests.

Need more help? Here are my top 3 Resources for learning about music notation:

Parts of a Note

There are different parts of the note that show us how long or short it is. They are the head, the stem and the flag:

Note values: Note parts

As you could see on the charts above, longer notes are white. The longest whole note (let's say it lasts for 4 beats) is the simplest; only a white oval. The half note (2 beats) adds a stem.

The quarter note (1 beat) also has a stem and adds color; black.

Shorter notes, (like the one above; an 8th note =1/2 of one beat) also adds a flag to indicate that they get shorter. A 16th note gets two flags, a 32nd note gets three flags, and so on. The more flags, the shorter the note value.

Counting Notes and Rests

So, the notes show us how many beats or parts of a beat they last. What is a beat? Think of it as your heart beat. All music is based on beat, and the different notes and rests symbolize how many beats, or part of a beat, they last.

However- since notes and rests are fractions, the number of beats that a note value or rest lasts can actually change, depending on what note the beat itself represents! 

What will never change are the relationships between the notes and rests themselves (and their names). Look at this chart:

Solfege subdivision des temps

From the top you can see that a whole note (or rest) equals two half notes in duration. A half note (or rest) equals two quarter notes, etc. This will always be true.

But, as you start learning about music theory and playing the piano, it is usually enough to first of all understand that one beat is very often represented by a quarter note. (Just remember that this can change! Any note can be worth one beat.)

So, assuming then that one quarter note equals one beat, the basic notes and rests would have the following number of beats:

  • Quarter note and rest = 1 beat
  • Half note and rest = 2 beats
  • Whole note and rest = 4 beats. (The whole rest however, has “double duty”, it is worth a whole measure of silence, whatever the time signature says.)

Continuing to divide one beat (= quarter note) in smaller fractions we get:

  • 2 eight notes = one beat
  • 4 sixteenth notes = one beat
  • 8 thirty-second notes = one beat
  • 16 sixty-fourth notes = one beat
  • 32 a-hundred-twenty-eight notes = one beat.

Music Rhythm

Notes can be combined in many,many ways. Notes and rests are combined in patterns. These patterns are called rhythm.

Shorter note values are often grouped or beamed together, usually in groups lasting for one or two beats. This makes it easier to read, and makes more sense when playing the music. Reading rhythm can be made easier by using rhythm syllables.

Adjusting the Note Values: Triplets, Ties & Dots

You can combine the basic note values, and rests, into rhythms in any way you like. But there are more interesting notes to spice up the music with! Some of the most common are triplets, ties and dotted notes:

Triplets

Note values: Triplets

Three notes grouped together are called triplets. Usually you will see eight note triplets, but any note value can be combined as triplets. In this example there are quarter note triplets.

A simple rule of how many beats a triplet is worth is to take away one of the notes. So three eight note triplets = two eight notes, three quarter triplets = two quarter notes, etc.


Ties

Note Values: Tied Notes

There are two ways you can adjust the duration of a note. One is by using a tie.

Two (or more) notes with exactly the same pitch can be "tied" together, meaning that you play the note only once but keep it for the added length of all the notes that are combined. Only notes can be tied like this, not rests.

Dotted Notes

Note Values: Dotted notes

Another way to make a note value longer is to use a dot after the note. The dot prolongs the note with half of its value.

So, for example a dotted half note is worth a half note + (half its value) a quarter note.

Both notes and rests can be dotted.  And you can have double, and triple dots as well!! Every dot adds half the value of the last note added, like this example.

Need more help? If you would like to learn more about note reading, check out my review about a piano software program that can help you get better at reading music as you play.

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