Music Library Contact Us Meet Mary Bookmark Us Home

Music Notes

Like any other discipline, becoming an expert in music requires that you understand the language of music. Just as historians must learn to read the language of that area of history they are studying, so too must students of music learn to read the system that has been developed to record music. Soloists, trumpeters, pianists - you name it - must all learn to read music, and the fundamental building blocks of the language of music are music notes.

Music notes determine the length of time a certain tone is held, and they also indicate the pitch of a tone on the seven-note scale that makes up Western music. The position of the note on the staff indicates whether the note is an A, B, C, D, E, F, or G. Associated sharp and flat symbols indicate whether the pitch falls between two of these notes.

The length of time a certain tone must last is also indicated with music notes. In Western music there are four basic notes - the eighth note, the quarter note, the half note, and the whole note. Of these, the whole note is perhaps the most easily recognized as it looks just like the letter O. A half note looks like a whole note with a vertical stem extending up or down from the O, and a quarter note looks just like this except that the hollow of the O is filled in. An eighth note looks like a quarter note except that it has one flag on its stem.

Starting with the eighth note, each successive note in this basic four-note system represents a doubling of the note before it. So in four-four timing, for example, an eighth note represents half a beat; a quarter note is a doubled eighth note (one beat); a half note is a doubled quarter note (two beats); and a whole note is a doubled half note (four beats). In cases when a tone needs to be held for a length of time not indicated above, there are certain marks to increase the length of each of these (music notes). Adding a dot to these notes represents the normal length of the note plus half of its value. For example, in four-four timing a dotted half note represents three beats. Notes can also be tied together to represent longer pitches. Two whole notes in four-four timing that are connected with a line represent eight beats and two quarter notes tied together represent two beats.

Finally, in the Western system of music notes, we must not forget the sixteenth note, which represents half the length of an eighth note. In four-four timing it would then be a quarter of a beat. Sixteenth notes look just like eighth notes except for the presence of two flags on their stems.