Types Of Musical Notes

In this lesson we're going to take a look at some of the basic types of musical notes.

We'll be covering:

  • The different types of musical notes and their time values
  • How to draw note stems and note tails (also known as hooks or flags)
    How to beam notes together


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 note symbols and there are five types that we’ll look at now and some more in further grades.


Semibreve (Whole note)

a semibreve or whole note

The first note is called a semibreve or in the US it’s called a ‘whole note’. 

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 note head’.

A semibreve has a value of four beats.

That means when we play a semibreve we count to four whilst holding the note.


Minim (Half note)

a minim or half note

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

It’s similar to a semibreve 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 minim has a value of two beats.

That means that we count to two when playing a minim, half as long as a semibreve.


Crotchet (Quarter note)

a crotchet or quarter note

Next, we have a crotchet or ‘quarter note'. 

It’s like a minim but, it has its note head filled in black. 

We call notes with their note head filled in black notes and notes without their note head filled in white notes.

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


Quaver (Eighth note)

a quaver or eighth note

This note is a quaver or ‘eighth note.’ 

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

The tail can also be called a flag or a hook. 

The tail halves the value of the note again and so a quaver has a value of half a beat, half as long as a crotchet.


Semiquaver (Sixteenth note)

a semiquaver or sixteenth note

Lastly, we have a semiquaver or ‘sixteenth note.' 

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

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


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.

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 here about notes on the stave.

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


Note Tails 

As you hopefully spotted above it’s not the same with the tails of the quavers and the 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.

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 quavers or semiquavers 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 quavers first.


Beaming Quavers (Eighth Notes)

When we beam quavers together we join the stems together using their note tails. 

For example:

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

But we'll cover those in a later chapter about grouping notes.


Beaming Semiquavers (Sixteenth Notes)

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

This is because they have two tails.

Combinations Of Quavers And Semiquavers

We can also have different combinations of quavers and semiquavers beamed together.

For example:

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

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