Term 1 Theory Lessons & Quiz

2 All About Notes

The Basics

In written music, a single sound is shown with a note. This note must tell us two important things what the pitch of the note is and how long is played. This is the note duration. To determine the duration of a note, you need to understand that all notes are based on the whole note.

whole note receives four counts of time. (In common time, but we'll get into that later.)

half note lasts half as long as a whole - so for two counts.

quarter note lasts for a quarter of a whole note - so each quarter note is worth one count.

An eighth note lasts for an eighth of time. Each eighth note is worth 1/2 a count of time.

Finally, a sixteenth note is worth 1/4 of a count.

You can see a pattern forming here - eight, sixteen, ... You can have notes that are even faster than a sixteenth note, but they aren't very common. A note that is one step faster than a sixteenth note is called a thirty-second note. One step higher than that is a sixty-fourth note. And so on.

A hierarchy of notes can be seen here. Each line shows the amount of that type of note that it takes to add up to a single whole note.

Eighth and sixteenth notes can be written two ways. When written alone, they are written with a flag. An eighth note has one flag and a sixteenth has two. When they are grouped together, they can be joined with a beam. A group of eighth notes has one beam and a sixteenth has two. Usually the top beam is a bit thicker than the lower one.

Each note also has a corresponding rest with the same name. The rest is worth the same value as the note. A rest represents a silence in the music.

Drawing Notes and Stem Direction

Different types of notes determine how long a note will be heard. Accuracy when you are drawing notes is very important. Your note must be aligned on the staff perfectly in a line or space and the note must be drawn correctly. This is very important because when you or someone else tries to read something you have written, they may not play it correctly if it is not written correctly. It's just like spelling words properly when you are writing a story.

There are two parts to (almost) every note. The stem and the head.

Stems can go up or down, depending on where the note is on the staff. Remember these rules:

1. Stems going up are attached on the right side of the note. Stems going down are attached to the left side of the note.

2. If the note is above the third line of the staff, the stem should go down.

3. If the note is below the third line of the staff, the stem should go up.

4. If the note is on the third line of the staff, the stem should go down.

5. If a group of eighth notes or sixteenth notes is joined with a bar, the same rules apply. The bar will either be above or below the notes. If there is a mix of high and low notes, use with the direction the majority of the notes would go. If there are equal amounts of each, then the overall shape of the melody dictates whether the bar is above or below.

6. The length of the stem should continue up (or down) to the space or line with the same letter name. For example, if your note is a D, then your stem should stretch all the way to the next D on the staff.


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