Note Durations

Using a set of symbols called notes the pitch and duration of musical sounds are written (notated) on the musical staff. The most basic note is an oval (called a whole-note). The whole note becomes a half note when a stem is added. Adding the stem changes the duration or time that the note is sounded. Other time durations are indicated by further changes to the note head or stem. These changes are discussed below. When the note head of the half note is filled in it becomes a quarter note. Adding a flag changes the quarter note into an eighth note. Adding a second flag makes a sixteenth note. The stems can go up or down. When the stem goes up it appears on the right hand side of the note head. When the stem goes down it appears on the left hand side of the note head.

Whole Note Half Notes Quarter Notes Eighth Notes Sixteenth Notes

Two half notes equal one whole note in duration. Two quarter notes equal one half note in duration and four quarter notes equal one whole note.

Two eighth notes equal one quater note in duration. Four eighth notes equal one half note in duration and eight eighth notes equal one whole note.

Two sixteenth notes equal one eighth note in duration and four sixteenth notes equal one quarter note in duration, etc.

Quarter, Half, and Whole Notes

Play the following example while viewing the notation to get an idea of the relative relationships in duration of the note values. A value of "1" is often assigned to quarter notes, "2" to half notes, and "4" to whole notes. Click on the first note or one of the instrument links to listen to the example. Move the cursor over the notes in order from left to right and count out loud while listening to the example.



Eighth, Quarter, and Half Notes

When a quarter note is assigned the time value of 1, an eighth note will receive a time value of one-half. When two eighth notes are grouped together it is easy to divide the "1" in half and think "one and" in rhythm for the two notes (or "one and two and" for four eighth notes in sequence). In addition, when eighth notes appear with quarter and half notes the quarter and half note durations can be conceptualized in relation to the value of the eighth notes. Click on the first note or one of the instrument links to listen to the example. Move the cursor over the notes in order from left to right and count out loud while listening to the example.


Sixteenth, Eighth, Quarter, and Half Notes

When a quarter note is assigned the time value of 1, a sixteenth note will receive a time value of one-fourth. (It takes 4 sixteenth notes to equal one quarter note.) To facilitate the conceptualization of sixteenth notes musicians often use syllables or vowels to count groups of sixteenths, such as "one ee and ah". In addition to the 4 sixteenths the example below contains 2 sixteenths followed by an eighth. The time value of these three notes equals one quarter note. Click on the first note or one of the instrument links to listen to the example. Move the cursor over the notes in order from left to right while listening.



Beaming Eighth Notes

Beams are often used to join two or more eighth notes. The first example below uses flags and the second beams. They represent two different ways of writing the same musical example. Click on the first note or one of the instrument links to listen to the example.


Beaming Sixteenth and Eighth Notes

Beams are often used to join two or more sixteenth notes and eighth notes. The first example below uses flags and the second beams. They represent two different ways of writing the same musical example.



Note Value Chart

Study the chart below and compare the relative durations of each type of note. Each note type is one half the preceding note in time duration. A half note is one half the value of a whole note. A quarter note is one half the value of a half note, etc.

Whole Note
Half Note
Quarter Note
Eighth Note
Sixteenth Note