Note Values

In the following example, you will see a variety of note values (admittedly not a great many examples, though):

grand staff beethoven piano sonata example
Ludwig van Beethoven, Piano Sonata, Op. 49, No. 2

big example of durations with rests and explanations.png

 

Referring to the above pic, let’s look at a few other things and review others[1]:

  1. This a grand staff.
  2. Below the number 2 is the treble clef.
  3. Above the number 3 is the bass clef.
  4. Above and below the number 4 is the time signature. The top 4 refers to the number of beats per measure.  A measure is delineated by a bar line.  The bottom 4 refers to which note value gets the beat.  It is customary to give each staff the time signature.  Nearly always, this time signature will be the same, but some composers have experimented with a unique time signature in each staff.  These require some preparation before playing.
  5. The red double-headed arrow to the left of the number 5 shows a whole note[2] in the treble clef and a whole rest in the bass clef. The whole note is a note head that is not filled in and has no stem.  In this example, the whole note is worth 4 beats.  NB: The whole rest is centered between the bar lines while the whole note is at the left side of the measure.
  6. Below the number 6 is a bar line. The bar line separates one measure from another.
  7. The symbols above and below the number 7 are the half note and half rest. The half note has a note head that is not filled in and has a stem.  In this example, the half note is worth 2 beats, so 2 half notes would fill a measure.
  8. NB that the stems can either go up or down, depending on its position. Generally, when the individual pitch is on the middle line or above, the stem goes up.
  9. The symbols above and below the number 9 are the quarter note and quarter rest. In this example, the quarter note is worth 1 beat.  We would need 4 of those to fill a measure.
  10. The symbols above and below the number 10 represent eighth notes and eighth rests. The eighth note is worth half a beat; you need 2 for a full beat and 8 to fill a measure.  The eighth rest looks kind of like the number 7.
  11. NB that you can either have single eighth notes, 2 eighth notes connected to a single beam, or connect four eighth notes with a beam. There are examples of connecting 3, 5, 7, etc., with a single beam.  Notice also that the eighth note looks like a quarter note, but it has a flag attached to the end of the stem.
  12. The symbols above and below the number 12 are sixteenth notes. One is worth ¼ of a beat and you would need 4 to fill a beat and 16 to fill a measure.  If you use a single 16th note, it would look like a single 8th note, but with 2 flags.  The rests would have two flags.
  13. The symbols above and below the number 13 are 32nd notes. You would need 8 to fill 1 beat and 32 to fill a full measure.  If you use a single 32nd note, it would look like a single 8th note, but with 3 flags.  The rests would have three flags.
  14. To make it easier to read the music, you can connect 2 groups of beamed 32nd notes with a single beam, as with the beamed 8th This is easier to read because it shows where the halfway point of the beat is.  BTW, this is my preferred way rather than triple beaming 8 32nd notes.  An individual 32nd note has 3 flags.
  15. At the end of a composition, there is a double bar line where the right bar is thicker.

You can create 64th notes, 128th notes, etc., by adding beams or flags, but these are extremely rare in music.  Combinations of these durations are often found – more often than the boring examples in the pic.  For example, to fill a 4/4 measure, you can have:

combinations of durations
Counting

Regarding the above pic:

  • Mental counting, and sometimes audible counting (but not during performances), is important for the musician to get the durations and rhythms accurate.
  • The positions of the beat numbers, whether they are above or below a staff are irrelevant. I placed the top staff numbers above and the bottom staff numbers below to eliminate any confusion.
  • When you tap your foot to a beat, you are tapping on the beat (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.).
    • To designate the exact middle of a beat (eighth notes), nearly everyone uses “and” (“&”): 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &.
    • To designate dividing the beat into quarters (16th notes), nearly everyone uses 1 e & a, 2 e a & a, etc.
    • To account for the beat, but not playing anything, as in the 2nd beat of the top clef, or anything new, as in the 3rd beat of the bottom staff, I use parentheses.
    • To account for the 32nd notes, I just use whichever the part of the beat the first one lands on (the last 16th note, or “a” in the top staff and the 2nd 16th note of the bottom staff. It’ as if my brain stutters.

Ties

A tie is when you connect two notes that are the same pitch, making a longer held note:

ties.png
Counting with ties
  • In the top staff, the half note is tied to a quarter note that is the same pitch, giving us a pitch that lasts 3 beats.
  • In the top staff on beat 4, the quarter note is tied to a whole note in the next measure, giving us a pitch that lasts 5 beats.
  • In the bottom staff, the last beat of the 1st measure is tied to a quarter note of the same pitch in the next measure, giving us a pitch that lasts 2 beats.

The dot

The dot after a note means that you extend the current note’s value by ½.  The following pic is the same as the previous pic’s top staff:

the dot
The dot

The dot, and the double-dot, triple-dot, etc. can be used on any note value:

dot double dot etc.png
Dots and double dots
  • The two staves would be performed in exactly the same way.
  • In measure 1, add half the value of the dotted quarter note to the existing quarter note (1 beat + ½ beat).
  • In measure 2, add half the value of the dotted eighth note to the existing eighth note (½ beat + ¼ beat).
  • In measure 3, add half the value of the previous dot to the existing dotted quarter note, plus half again (1½ beats + ¼ beat).
  • In measure 4, add half the value of the previous dot to the existing eighth note, plus half again (½ beat + 1/4 beat).
  • A triple dot on a half note would be the same as tying the half note, quarter note, eighth note and sixteenth note.  Anything beyond a double dot is rare in music because it can cause more confusion than clarification.

[1] This example is for 4/4 time.  3/4, 6/8, etc. could have different groupings.

[2] The Brits use other terminology for these note values.  For a fun site to explore, see https://sites.google.com/site/ninagilbert/home/british

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