Music TheoryNotationRhythm

Types Of Musical Notes You Need To Know

Written by Dan Farrant

Last updated

One of the first places to start when studying music is to learn about all the types of musical notes there are. Knowing the names of all these notes, as well as their time values, how to draw them, and what the parts of the notes are called, is key to being able to read music well.

In this post, we’ll cover all these types of notes in music to help you on your way to learning how to read music. Let’s get started.

Music Note Names and Their Time Values

When playing music, a musician needs to know how long to play each sound for.

Composers tell them by using different symbols called notes.

Let’s take a look at some of the music note types you definitely need to know about when learning to read music.

Whole Note (Semibreve)

a semibreve or whole note

The first note is called a whole note or, in British terminology, it’s called a semibreve.

It’s like a small oval-shaped zero or letter O, which is a good way to think of it when you first begin writing music. We call this oval-shaped part of a note the notehead.

A whole note has a value of four beats. That means when we play a whole note, we count to four whilst holding the note.

Half Note (Minim)

a minim or half note

The second note we’ll look at is called a half note or minim.

It’s similar to a whole note but has a line coming out of the right-hand side of its note head. This line is called a stem.

The stem halves the value of the note, and so a half note has a value of two beats. That means we count to two when playing a half note, half as long as a whole note.

Quarter Note (Crotchet)

a crotchet or quarter note

Next, we have a quarter note or crotchet.

It’s like a half note, but it has its notehead filled in black.

This halves the value of the note again, and so a quarter note has a value of one beat, half as long as a half note.

Eighth Note (Quaver)

a quaver or eighth note

This note is an eighth note or quaver.

It’s like a quarter note, but it also has a tail coming out of the side of its stem.

The note tail is also referred to as a flag or a hook.

The tail halves the value of the note again, and so an eighth note has a value of half a beat, half as long as a quarter note.

Sixteenth Note (Semiquaver)

a semiquaver or 16th note

Up next, we have a sixteenth note or semiquaver.

It’s like a quaver but has two tails coming out of its stem.

This means that it’s half the value of an eight note, and so is worth one-quarter of a beat. 

Thirty Second Note (Demisemiquaver)

a demisemiquaver or 32nd note

Here, we have a thirty-second note or demisemiquaver.

You can see it has three tails (one more than a sixteenth note).

A thirty-second note is worth half the value of a sixteenth note and so is worth one-eighth of a quarter note beat.

Infographic of the types of musical notation
A quick guide to musical notes

Other Notes

Those are the main notes you’ll come across and use in musical notation, but you can get shorter and longer notes, too.

Sixty-Fourth Note (Hemidemisemiquaver)

a hemidemisemiquaver or 64th note

A sixty-fourth note or hemidemisemiquaver (I know it’s a bit of a mouthful), is just like a thirty-second note but with an additional tail.

It’s very uncommon, though, so don’t worry about it too much!

You can get even shorter notes than this, such as the 128th note or semihemidemisemiquaver, and the 256th note or demisemihemidemisemiquaver, but I’m not going to cover those as they’re extremely rare.

Double Whole Note (Breve)

a breve or double whole note

You can also have a note called a double whole note, or breve which is worth eight beats, twice as long as a whole note.

It’s quite uncommon and you’ll only see it in certain time signatures.

Musical Notes Chart

Here’s a handy chart of all the different types of common musical notes with their US and UK names, an image, and then the number of quarter note beats that they are worth.

Musical Notes Chart
Name (UK)Name (US)SymbolBeats
brevedouble whole note8 beats
semibrevewhole note4 beats
minimhalf note2 beats
crotchetquarter note1 beat
quavereighth note1/2 beat
semiquaver16th note1/4 beat
demisemiquaver32nd note1/8 beat

The Music Note Tree

Sometimes, you’ll see the note values represented as a tree or pyramid.

This is called the music note tree and is a great way to visualize the relationship between all the note values.

The music note tree (UK terminology)

Note Stems

As well as the stems of notes being able to point upwards, they can also point downwards.

When a note’s stem points upwards, it comes out of the right-hand side of the note head. 

But, when a note’s stem points downwards, it comes out of the left-hand side of the note head.

examples of note stems

There are some rules to know about to determine which way the stems should point, though. 

I cover some of the basics in this post about notes on the staff.

The most important thing, however, is to always have the stem on the correct side of the notehead.

Note Tails

Note tails work a little differently from notes that have tails like quavers and semiquavers.

Note’s tails always come out of the right-hand side of the stem, no matter whether or not they’re pointing up or down.

note tails and their directions

The way to remember this is that tails always follow the direction of the music.

In other words, we read music from left to right. So, the note tails always point in the direction of the music…

To the right.

Beaming Notes Together

When we have two or more notes with a tail (like eighth notes and sixteenth notes) next to each other, we join their tails together with a beam between the tops of their stems.

This is to help make it easier for musicians to read the notes.

Let’s look at how to beam eighth notes.

Beaming Quavers (Eighth Notes)

When we beam eighth notes together, we join the stems together using their note tails. 

For example, two eighth notes on their own become:

example showing how to beam quavers

There are lots of rules and conventions about how many quavers we can beam together.

But I’ll cover those in another post on grouping notes in different time signatures.

Beaming Sixteenth Notes (Semiquavers)

It works the same with sixteenth notes, but instead of having one beam between their stems, we use two beams.

This is because they have two tails.

example showing how to beam semiquavers

For thirty-second notes and sixty-fourth notes, we would just add an additional beam or two depending on how many tails the note has.

Combinations of Eight Notes and Sixteenth Notes

We can also have different combinations of eight notes and sixteenth notes beamed together.

For example:

two semiquavers and a quaver beamed
a quaver followed by two semiquavers beamed
a semiquaver followed by a quaver and a semiquaver beamed

There are some rules about how to beam and group notes in different time signatures that we’ll cover in another lesson, too. 

Dotted Notes

Sometimes, when writing music, a composer might want to make a note last longer than a note’s value.

When this is the case, we can use a dotted note to extend the duration of the note.

a dotted crotchet or dotted quarter note

This dot after the note head makes the note longer by half its value. 

For example, a dotted half note has the same time value as a half note plus a quarter note:

a doted minim is equal to a minim plus a crotchet

Or a dotted eight note is equal to an eighth note plus a sixteenth note.

a doted quaver is equal to a quaver plus a semiquaver

We can’t have a dotted note go across a bar line, though.

If we want a note to go over a bar line, then we use a tied note, which we’re going to have a look at next.

Tied notes

tie is a sloped line that joins together two notes that are next to each other and have the same pitch. 

It looks like this line below.

a tie line

When you see a tie, it means that the time values of the notes are added together to create a longer note.

For example, two half notes tied together have the same value as a whole note:

two minims tied are equal to a semibreve

Two quarter notes tied together have the same value as a half note:

two crotchets tied together are equal to a minim

They don’t have to be the same time value either; you could have a quarter note tied to an eight note, or a half note tied to a quarter note, etc…

Read more in my guide to tied notes here.

Rests and When Not to Play

Rests in music

Music isn’t all about sound. Sometimes, not playing a note is just as important as playing one.

All the different types of musical notes we’ve looked at above have a corresponding symbol telling the musician not to play and to be silent.

We call these symbols rests.

You can read more about the different music rest symbols here.

What are Ornaments?

Musical ornaments

Musical ornaments are a shorthand way of writing more complicated musical devices but with a simple symbol.

They’re used to embellish music and make it more interesting with decoration and character.

There are lots of different types, like turns, trills, and acciaccaturas, plus a few others.

I cover a lot of the common ones in this post on musical ornamentation here if you want to read more about them.

What are Triplets?

Triplets

Another type of musical note that you might see is a group of notes with a number three over the top.

These notes with a number three over them are a type of tuplet called triplets.

We use triplets to subdivide notes into three equal parts.

To read more about them, check out my in-depth guide to triplets, where I go into more detail about how to draw them with loads of examples.

What are Duplets?

A duplet

You can also get another type of tuplet (irregular time division) called a duplet.

A dulpet works like a triplet, but it’s a way of playing two notes in the time of three.

To read more about them, check out our post on how to play musical duplets here.

Wrapping up on Music Notes

That’s it for now. Hopefully, this post has helped you to understand how to read and write music a little better.

Most people will focus on memorizing all the notes and think that they have to know them all before starting to play music. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

I find the best way to really learn how to read music and learn all the notes is to do it as much as possible. The more you practice reading notes, the more natural recognizing them will become.

If you have any questions about anything that I’ve covered in this post, just get in touch, and we’ll get back to you.

If you want to keep learning, check out my other free music theory lessons here.

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.