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Types of Musical Notes You Must Know

August 4, 2023
types of musical notes

Part of your training in music theory involves learning about musical notes, and how to identify them.

Musical notes are misleadingly simple-looking symbols that provide a wealth of information, and they give us insight into the time values of a given beat.

Becoming familiar with the different types of musical notes is vital to learning how to read music.

Reading music is non-negotiable for musicians who want to play familiar songs, write their own songs, or communicate with bandmates or fellow creatives.

Main Notes

The first family of music notes you’ll need to learn are symbols that describe how long a musician has to play a given sound.

Be advised that music is written on something called a stave (U.K.) or a staff (U.S.).

In the below examples, American terminology is listed first while British terminology is in brackets.

Whole Note (Semibreve)

Whole Note (Semibreve)

Represents: four beats.

Called alternately a whole note or a semibreve, this small oval-shaped note has a value of four beats.

That means when you see this symbol on musical notation you must hold the given note while mentally counting to four.

The oval shape is called the “note head” when attached to a stem in other examples.

Half Note (Minim)

Half Note (Minim).

Represents: two beats.

The half note has a stem coming out of the basic oval shape of the semibreve.

In this example, the stem cuts the value of the time signature in half, meaning this symbol represents two beats. 

You will count to two while holding the note indicated by this symbol.

Quarter Note (Crotchet)

Quarter Note (Crotchet)

Represents: one beat.

A quarter note is identical in appearance to the half note except that the note head is blacked-out.

This note represents the half note cut in half again and represents one-quarter of a whole note.

A quarter note represents one beat.

Eighth Note (Quaver)

Eighth Note (Quaver)

Represents: half a beat.

The eight note is similar to a quarter note but it has a tail coming out of the top of the stem.

You will also see the tail referred to as a flag or hook.

The tail halves the value of the note again and represents half a beat.

Sixteenth Note (Semiquaver)

Sixteenth Note (Semiquaver)

Represents: one quarter of a beat.

The sixteenth note has two tails coming out of its sten. It has half the value of a quaver and represents one-quarter of a beat. 

Think of it as representing one-quarter of a second.

Thirty Second Note/32nd Note (Demisemiquaver)

Thirty Second Note/32nd Note (Demisemiquaver)

Represents: one-eighth of a beat.

Demisemiquaver – it’s a tongue twister, right?

The 32nd note has three tails coming out of the stem. 

This note is worth one-eighth the value of a crotchet note, so represents one-eighth of a single beat.

Less Common Notes

Double Whole Note (Breve)

Double Whole Note (Breve)

Represents: eight beats.

The breve note features two parallel lines on both sides of the semibreve. 

Sixty Fouth Note (Hemidemisemiquaver)

Sixty Fouth Note (Hemidemisemiquaver)

Represents: 1/64th of a note.

We won’t ask you to use this word much, as it is quite the head-spinner.

This note has four tails and is fairly uncommon.

Note Placements

It is important to know that when the stem points upwards, it will be found on the right-hand side of the head, but when the musical note points downward it will be found on the left-hand side of the head.

Note that tails will always come out of the right side of the stem, whether the stem points upwards or downwards.

The tail always follows the direction of the musical notation, which is always left to right in Western music.

Beaming Notes

Beaming Notes

When two or more tailed notes are next to each other we join their tails together with a symbol called a beam.

This connects the notes and provides for easier interpretation when reading a piece of music.

Beamed quavers will see their two tails connected by a horizontal line on the top of them.

Beamed semi-quavers with two stems are connected by two horizontal beam lines. 

For demisemiquavers and hemidemisemiquavers, there will be three and four horizontal lines, respectively.

We can also combine quavers and semiquavers together and beam them with the appropriate number of horizontal lines.

Dotted Notes

Dotted Notes

When a composer or musician wants a note to last a bit longer than it is designated to last, they will follow the note with a dot, identical to the period in the Latin alphabet – only thicker.

The dot makes the given note longer by half its value.

For instance, a quaver, which is worth one beat, would be worth one and a half beats if followed by a period.

A crotchet, worth two beats, would be worth three beats if followed by a period. 

Be advised that dotted notes cannot follow beamed lines.

In this case, we would use something called a tied note. 

Tied Notes

Tied Notes

A tie is a line with a small downward slope.

It joins together two notes in lieu of a straight horizontal bar and is found on the bottom of two notes to connect them.

The two notes attached by the tied line do not have to be identical.

You can attach a minim to a crotchet, or a quaver to a crotchet, for example.

A tie means that the time values of the attached notes are added together to create a longer note.

Two minims are equivalent to one semibreve, for example:

Two minims are equivalent to one semibreve

Triplets & Duplets

Triplets

You may also see a group of three notes connected with a beamline, with the number “3” on top of them. 

Triplets are used to subdivide notes into three equal parts.

Duplets are two notes connected with the number “2” on top of them.

A duplet is a mechanism for playing two notes in the time of three.

Both are examples of tuplets, which denote an uncommon time division. 

Rests

In musical notation, there are also symbols for silences.

Silence is often essential, and works to emphasize sounds and add texture to a piece of music.

These symbols are known as rests.

Semibreve Rest

Semibreve Rest

A semibreve rest is known as a whole note rest and requires silence for a total of four beats. 

It is represented by a rectangle hanging off the 2nd line from the top of the stave. 

Be advised that a bar of music with only one single semibreve indicates a whole bar of silence.

Minim Rest

Minim Rest

A minim rest is known as a half-note rest and requires silence for a total of two beats.

It is located atop the middle line of the stave.

Crotchet Rest

Crotchet Rest

A crotchet rest is known as a quarter note rest and requires silence for a total of one beat.

It is an unusual symbol and looks like an elongated “Z” with a small flourish at the bottom.

Quaver Rest

Quaver Rest

A quaver rest is also known as an eighth note rest which requires silence for half a beat.

It looks like a seven with a period appended to the head.


Semiquaver Rest

Semiquaver Rest

A semiquaver rest is also known as a sixteenth-note rest and calls for silence for a quarter beat.

It looks like the quaver rests with an additional tail attached to the left side of the stem.

You can also place a dot next to the rests to create dotted rests, similar to the dotted notes that we encountered above.

The dot will always be written in the second space from the top of the stave. 

You cannot append rests together the way you can with standard notes.

Instead, you must write out each individual rest.

Ornaments

Ornaments are a shorthand way of expressing more complicated musical ideas in a quick and convenient way.

They add pizazz and flourish to a piece of music but are not strictly necessary for the functioning of the melody.

While ornaments are not found as frequently as the above notes and rest, you will see them on occasion.

The most common ornaments are: 

  • Turns
  • Mordents
  • Trills
  • Acciaccaturas
  • Appoggiaturas

Music Note Trees

When getting used to memorizing musical notes, you can use visual charts and tools.

One of the most common is the music note tree whereby the notes are distributed like a pyramid by the value of their beats.

Types of Musical Notes – Final Thoughts

If you can memorize the Latin alphabet, we trust that musical notes will quickly become second nature to you.

With consistent exposure, you’ll be able to discern their meaning in no time at all and will be able to confidently and accurately play from musical notation.

You may also like: What is Music Theory?

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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