Types of Notes and Rests
To continue our series of resources for those interested in learning to read music, today we'll discuss common note and rest values and how these notes and rests are counted in 4|4 time.
We'll start with a quick review of some basics to remember as you read this post:
- In musical notation, notes designate when the musician is supposed to play, whereas rests designate where the musician does not play.
- The note head is placed upon the line or space that represents the pitch that the musician should be playing. See our post about notes on the staff here.
- We'll be doing a more in-depth post on time signatures soon, but for the purposes of this post, remember that 4/4 time is counted "1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4".
- We'll also be posting a review of the basics of notation soon - for this discussion remember that beats are divisions within measures.
While our graphics refers to "types" of notes and rests, what we are really describing is the note or rest's "value", the duration of the note/rest relative to the piece of music to be played. For each note value there is an equivalent rest, one that lasts the same length as the note of the same name, for example a quarter note and a quarter rest last for the same amount of time.
As we go over how to count notes and rests, imagine or listen to a metronome. We’ll use the word “tick” to refer to beats that are not stated when counting notes that last more than one beat.
Whole notes and whole rests last for an entire measure, or four beats in this discussion of 4|4 time. As such, in counting whole notes and rests only the “1” is said aloud ("1, tick, tick, tick, 1, tick, tick, tick" on the metronome). Some students prefer to say the “1” then whisper "2 3 4" or "wait wait wait" to keep the beat in their minds when first learning how to count note values ("1, wait, wait, wait, 1, wait, wait, wait)
Half notes and rests last for half of the duration of whole notes and rests, in this case two beats. As with the whole note and rest, some beats are not stated when counting aloud because of the length of the half note/rest. In 4|4 starting on the first beat, half notes/rests are counted on “1” and “3” (“1, tick, 3, tick, 1, tick, 3, tick, on the metronome). Alternatively, using the method where the word “wait” is substituted, the counting would be "1, wait, 3, wait, 1, wait, 3, wait".
Quarter notes and rests last for one beat each and are counted "1, 2, 3, 4" in 4|4 time.
Eighth notes and rests last for half of the duration of a quarter note. To count notes and rests shorter than a quarter note/rest, we have to divide each beat. Eighth notes/rests require the beat to be divided equally in two parts; commonly the word "and" is used to signify the second half of the beat. Sometimes the word "and" is spelled out, but an ampersand or plus sign can be used for brevity. As such, eighth notes and rests are counted "1, and, 2, and, 3, and, 4, and," ("1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &") with the metronome tick aligning with each number.
Sixteenth notes and rests, the last that we’ll discuss today, divide the beat into four equal parts. This is commonly phrased as the number of the beat, “e”, “and”, and “a” (pronounced “uh” - we will refer to it as “uh” here). Sixteenth notes and rests are counted “1, e, &, uh, 2, e, &, uh, 3, e, &, uh, 4, e, &, uh” with the metronome tick aligning with each number.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all note and rest values, but it is a good way to get started.