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Illustrated Tour of Sheet Music: Part One

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Musical Note Lengths
Different note lengths shown on the staff.

Smaller notes, like eighth and sixteenth notes, may be grouped by note-beams to make them easier to read.

Image © Brandy Kraemer

Music Notes

Notes are the symbols written on the staff that express the pitch and duration of a sound:

  • Pitch is expressed by a note’s placement on the staff. When a note has fallen off the staff, it is placed on a ledger line.

  • Duration depends on the note’s length (or “value”), which is specified by its color, stem, or flag(s).

Note Lengths

The length of a note will tell you how many beats it covers in a measure. The most common note lengths are:


  • Whole Note (U.S.), Semibreve (U.K.)
    Covers every beat in 4/4 time.
    In common time, a whole note takes all four beats.

  • Half Note (U.S.), Minim (U.K.)
    Is half the length of a whole note.
    Covers two beats in common time.

  • Quarter Note (U.S.), Crotchet (U.K.)
    Is 1/4 the length of a whole note.
    Is one beat in common time.

  • Eighth Note (U.S.), Quaver (U.K.)
    Is 1/8 the length of a whole note; half the length of a quarter note.
    Two eighth notes make one beat.

  • Sixteenth Note (U.S.), Semiquaver (U.K.)
    Is 1/16 the length of a whole note; half the length of an eighth note.
    Four sixteenth notes equal one beat of common time.

  • Thirty-Second Note (U.S.), Demisemiquaver (U.K.)
    Is 1/32 the length of a whole note; 1/4 the length of an eighth note.
    Eight thirty-second notes equal one beat of common time.

  • Sixty-Fourth Note (U.S.), Hemidemisemiquaver (U.K.)
    Is 1/64 the length of a whole note; 1/8 of an eighth note.
    Sixteen sixty-fourth notes equal one beat of common time.

Continue With Lengths & Values
►  Beginner Note-Length Quiz (Available in U.S. or U.K. English)
►  Advanced Rhythm & Note Length Quiz
►  How to Read Music Rests


See More Musical Symbols:
Staff & Barlines    ■Note Lengths     ■Articulation Marks    ■Repeat Signs
The Grand Staff      ■Dotted Notes      ■Dynamics & Volume      ■Segno & Coda Signs
Time Signatures       ■Accidentals        ■Key Signatures      ■Pedal Marks
Tempo Commands     ■Piano Chords         ■Music Rests          ■8va & Octave Commands


Related Video
Note Reading Basics

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