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Note Values

In music notation, a note value indicates the relative duration of a note, using the color or shape of the note head, the presence or absence of a stem, and the presence or absence of flags/beams/hooks. A rest indicates a silence of an equivalent duration. Discover how to read them in music notation in this lesson.

note values

The Whole Note

Its length is typically equal to four beats in 4/4 time. Most other notes
divide the whole note; half notes are played for one half the duration of the
whole note, quarter notes are each played for one quarter the duration, etc.
A whole note lasts half as long as a double whole note.

It looks like this:whole

This is actually the easiest one to play.

All you have to do is strum the chord once, and wait for three beats. Strum
the chord again, and wait for three beats.

whole equals

A Whole Rest would look like this (same value, but instead of playing it,
you rest for that duration):

whole rest

The Half Note

A half note is a note played for twice the duration of a quarter note. In
time signatures with a demoninator of 4, such as 4/4 or 3/4 time, the half
note is two beats long.

It looks like this:half note

You can think of the half note as dividing the whole note into two. This means
you’re playing a given note or chord twice for every one time you play a whole

half notes

A Half Rest would look like this (same value, but instead of playing it,
you rest for that duration):

half rest

The Quarter Note

A quarter note is a note that represents the duration of one beat. In other
words it gets one beat.

It looks like this: quarter note

You remember that I told you that a song in standard (4/4) time gets 4 beats
per measure, right? That would mean that the song it would get 4 quarter notes
 per measure, because a quarter note gets one beat. That’s why it’s called a quarter note. There are 4 quarters in a whole. For example, a dollar bill can be divided up into 4 quarters. (.25 + .25 + .25 + .25 = $1.00)

A Quarter Rest would look like this (same value, but instead of playing it, you rest for that duration):

quarter rest

The Eighth Note

An eighth note is a note played for one eighth the duration of a whole note,
hence the name. As with all notes with stems, the general rule is that eighth
notes are drawn with stems to the right of the notehead, facing up, when they
are below the middle line of the musical staff.

It looks like this:mus-sai-en

When they are on or above the middle line, they are drawn with stems on the
left of the note head, facing down.

Flags are always on the right side of the stem, and curve to the right. On
stems facing up, the flag starts at the top and curves down; for downward facing
stems, the flags start at the bottom of the stem and curve up. When multiple
eighth notes or sixteenth notes (or thirty-second notes, etc.) are next to
each other, the stems may be connected with a beam rather than a flag.


We can count eight notes along with a beat like this: Tap a steady rhythm on table. Each time your hand his the table is a beat. Each beat gets two eight
notes, so each time your hand hits the table is a “1” or “2”. Each time your hand comes up is the “and”.

See the example:


You’ll want to strum them in a down up down up pattern like so (and vice versa):


An Eighth Rest would look like this (same value, but instead of playing it,
you rest for that duration):

eighth rest

The Sixteenth Note

The easiest way to explain sixteenth notes is by using what we already know from the eighth note. This is LITERALLY doubled up.

Sixteenth notes are notated with an oval, filled-in note head and a straight note stem with two flags.

sixteenth note

As you can see, it looks just like the eighth note, only with double beams
that connect. A sixteenth note by itself would look like this:


A Sixteenth Rest would look like this (same value, but instead of playing it, you rest for that duration):

sixteenth rest

Standard time, the most common time, means the music gets 4 beats per measure.

A measure is a way to break the song down into small groups and are separated by bars.