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Here is a summary of the most important rules about correct note values, grouping notes with beams, and the choice of rests.

The overall principle is to make the beats clear.


  • Place longer notes on stronger beats.
  • A new beam equals a new beat.
  • Beam all the notes which belong to the same beat.
  • Ties join beats together.
  • Ties and beams don’t mix.
  • Never beam across beats 2-3 in quadruple time.
  • In compound time, never use an undotted note longer than one beat.
  • In compound time, never beam in groups larger than one beat.

In the following examples, the position of each beat is difficult to see in the incorrect versions. 4/4 shows beaming in simple time. 6/4 is compound time.

 In the correct versions, the beats are visible either because a note is tied to a new beat, or a new beamed group begins.

grouping in 4/4 time
grouping 6/4


Avoid dotted rests in simple time, unless they are less than one beat.

rests 4/4

Less than 1 beat: build the beat up one size rest at a time, from smaller to larger.

rests less than one beat

More than 1 beat: use rests equal to any number of whole beats, but do not place a long rest on a weak beat. (Strong beats are beat 1, and in quadruple time also beat 3).

rests more than one beat 4/4
rests more than one beat 3/4

The semibreve (whole) rest (which hangs from the 2nd line) is used for a whole bar in all time signatures. It is placed in the centre of the bar (other rests are placed on the beat they fall on).

whole bar rests