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The longest note we have come across in earlier theory grades is the semibreve (whole note)- written as an open note-head without a stem.

We’ll now learn about a note which is twice as long as a semibreve – the BREVE, (or DOUBLE WHOLE NOTE in the USA).

The breve is written just like a semibreve, plus 2 short, vertical lines on each side of the note head, like this:

breve or double whole note


A breve is worth 2 semibreves, 4 minims, or 8 crotchets. / A double whole note is worth 2 whole notes, 4 half notes, or 8 quarter notes.

We don’t see breves very often – mainly because they last longer than a complete bar in most time signatures. They are just too big to use in 4/4 for example! Breves can be found in 4/2 (four minims per bar = 1 breve), for instance.

The breve rest is a solid block which fills in the gap of the C space (treble clef):

breve (double whole) rest

Why is a breve called a breve? Many students wonder this, since the word sounds a lot like “brief”, which means short!

“Breve” and “brief” are indeed connected – in the 13th century, the note we call a breve today was the shortest note available to composers. There were notes that were longer than the breve, which were called “longa” and “maxima”. You can read more about how musical notation has changed over the centuries here.

To find out more about why we use different note names on either side of the ocean, read more here!

Breves Exercises

Hover your mouse over the questions (tap on mobiles) to reveal the answers.

Name the following rests (e.g. “quaver”(UK) or “eighth”(USA)):

breves 01breves 02breves 03breves 04breves 05