There are basically 3 categories of music rhythm symbols.
1) The Notes
2) The Rests
3) The Time Signatures
This page focuses on:
If you're not really sure what all this rhythm stuff is, check out the what is rhythm page first. Now onto the symbols.
First we'll start with the notes. Each note is written a specific way to let you know how long to hold it. Think of it in terms of a drum beat. Each beat of the drum is a count. You need to hold certain notes down for certain amounts of counts.
Now before I get into which notes get how many counts there is one thing I need to point out. This is generally how we teach how many counts a note gets but it's not true in all circumstances.
We have time signatures that tell us which note gets 1 beat. And from there, we know how many counts all the other notes get.
We are going to learn these notes in the context of 4/4 time or any time signature with a 4 on the bottom. (There's more on time signatures further down the page.)
Name: quarter note
Name: half note
Name: dotted half note
Name: whole note
The notes above are all "beginner" notes. When teaching piano to kids, we stay on the above notes for sometimes 2 years before moving onto the ones below. Adults usually learn these next notes within their first year of piano lessons.
Name: dotted quarter note
Beats: 1 1/2
Name: eighth note (8th note)
Note: 2 eighth notes = 1 beat.
Name: sixteenth note (16th note)
Note: 4 sixteenth notes = 1 beat
Note: there are faster note than these. What happens is more flags or bars are added.
32nd notes have 3 flags off a single note or 3 bars across the top.
64th notes have 4 flags off a single note or 4 bars across the top.
The next of the music rhythm symbols to learn are rests. Rests are the places where you don't play or hold a note. They are places of silence.
(And again, we are measuring out our beats as if we were using a time signature with a 4 at the bottom).
Name: whole rest
Note: This rest can also get 3 beats in 3/4 time. It is used to fill a bar of music.
Name: half rest
Name: dotted quarter rest
Beats: 1 1/2
Name: quarter rest
Name: eighth rest (8th rest)
Name: sixteenth rest (16th rest)
As you may have noticed, a note and a rest can have a dot beside it. And any note can have a dot beside it.
To figure out the timing of these notes, you use this formula:
1. How many counts does the note - without the dot attached - get?
For example, with a dotted quarter note, the quarter note gets 1 beat in 4/4 time.
2. Divide that number (the amount of beats) in half.
A quarter note divided in half is 1/2 a beat.
3. Add part 1 and 2 together. The note plus half of it's value. That's your answer!
For example, 1 + 1/2 = 1 1/2.
The final music rhythm symbols are time signatures. There is a full and complete page on time signatures but I'll also give a great summary here.
The most common time signature is 4/4 time - which is hard to type out as it should look. It should be one number on top of the other. This one is also known as "C" (which stands for common time).
The different numbers mean
The top 4 means that there are 4 beats in a bar. A bar or measure of music has 2 lines on either side.
The bottom 4 means that a quarter note gets one beat.
The bottom number can be different. It can be a 2 which would mean a half note gets 1 beat. (Then a whole note would get 2 beats.)
If the bottom number is 8, then an 8th note gets one beat and a quarter note gets 2 beats.
The top number always means the number of beats in a bar.
Use these interactive games to learn more about rhythm. We have created lots of games which are easy to use.
Those are the basic music rhythm symbols. If you want to find out how to use them, check out the rhythm lessons next. Happy playing!
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