The Time Values of Notes
We use different shapes of notes to show how long each one should last for.
The names of the notes and rests are different in American English than they are in British English, so I’ll use both names on this page. It helps to understand both naming systems, if you ever want to read more about music in books or online.
Music notes have up to 3 parts to them. They all have a head, which is oval, most have a stem, and a few also have flags. Some notes are black, and some are white.
Stems can point up or down – it doesn’t make any difference to the time value of the note. The direction of the stem mostly depends on whether the note is above or below the middle line of the staff.
- It’s useful to begin by thinking of the crotchet, or quarter note, as being worth a count of one. This note has a black head, and a stem.
- The minim, or half note, lasts twice as long as a crotchet, or 2 counts. It looks the same as the crotchet or quarter note, except it’s white.
- The semibreve or whole note lasts twice as long as a minim, or for 4 counts. This note is just a head without a stem.
- The quaver, or 8th note, lasts half as long as a crotchet, or ½ a count. This note has one flag when it’s written on its own. When two or more of them are joined together, the flags change to a beam. This makes them a bit easier to read.
- The semiquaver, or 16th note, lasts half as long as a quaver, or one quarter of a count, and it has two flags, or two beams if they’re joined together.
- The demisemiquaver, or 32nd note, lasts half as long as a semiquaver, or one eighth of a count. As you might expect, it has 3 flags, or 3 beams.
- Finally, the breve, or double whole note, lasts twice as long as a semibreve, or 8 counts. It’s the same shape and colour as a semibreve, but has two vertical lines on each side. These notes are pretty rare, but are more common in very old music.
So to recap, the default note which is worth one count, is the crotchet or quarter note. If you want a faster note, you can divide it into 2, again and again. More beams equals faster notes. If you want a slower note you can double again, and again. Slower notes have less things in them – first they lose their colour, then their stem!
Have a go at clapping some simple rhythms. Learning how to read rhythms fluently takes quite a lot of time, so keep practising!
These rhythms are at a tempo of one crotchet/quarter note per second.
Afterwards, listen to the rhythm to check if you were right.