Rhythms in Notation

In most music, rhythmic durations are measured and timed within the framework of a steady beat. To put it another way, rhythms are created by subdividing the beat into shorter durations or by adding them together into longer durations. All rhythmic values (durations) of notes and rests can be defined by their relationships to each other, as in the table below. In order to understand rhythms, we must first understand these relationships.

Relative Durations

In music notation, rhythms are indicated with variations in the way notes are shaped on the page. The durations are relative: a whole note is equal to the duration of two half notes, four quarter notes, eight eighth notes, and sixteen sixteenth notes.

Whole Note: whole
Half Notes: half half
Quarter Notes: quarter quarter quarter quarter
Eighth Notes: eighth eighth eighth eighth eighth eighth eighth eighth
Sixteenth Notes: sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth

Each duration of note has a corresponding rest of the same length. Whole and half rests look almost the same, but a whole rest hangs below the center staff line, and a half rest sits on top of it.

whole note = whole rest
half note = half rest
quarter note = quarter rest
eighth note = eighth rest
sixteenth note = sixteenth rest

Whole Rest: whole
Half Rests: half half
Quarter Rests: quarter quarter quarter quarter
Eighth Rests: eighth eighth eighth eighth eighth eighth eighth eighth
Sixteenth Rests: sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth sixteenth

Beams and Flags

The flags on eighth notes and sixteenth notes can be joined together into beams. This helps to keep fast rhythms from looking cluttered.

eighth and sixteenth notes beamed together

Dotted Rhythms

Adding a dot to the right of the note head makes the note duration one and a half times (150%) of the starting value. For example, a dotted half note is equal to the duration of a half note plus a quarter note (a half note tied to a quarter note).

dotted half = half tied to quarter

Adding a dot to a rest makes the rest one and a half times (150%) of its original duration, just as it does with notes.

dotted eighth = dotted eighth rest = eighth rest sixteenth rest

Triplets

Triplets are indicated by placing a 3 (and sometimes a bracket) over or under a group of notes. The duration of three eighth-note triplets is equal to the duration of two standard eighth notes, or one quarter note. To put it another way, while eighth notes divide a quarter note into two parts, an eighth-note triplet divides a quarter note into three parts.

eighth note triplets = eighths tied = quarter

As another example, the duration of three quarter-note triplets is equal to the duration of two standard quarter notes, or one half note. Quarter notes divide a half note into two parts, while quarter-note triplets divide a half note into three parts.

quarter note triplets = quarters tied = half

Rests can also be triplets just like notes. It is even common to see rests and notes within a group of triplets.

eighth note triplets with rest

Listen to the relative durations of notes here:

Rhythmic Values

"Music is nothing else but wild sounds civilized into time and tune." - Thomas Fuller

"After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." - Aldous Huxley

"Music in the soul can be heard by the universe." - Lao Tzu

"Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy." - Ludwig van Beethoven

"Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue." - Plato

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." - Victor Hugo

"Music is nothing else but wild sounds civilized into time and tune." - Thomas Fuller

Copyright © Sienna M. Wood, 2015-2016

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