# Note Lengths

## How To Work Out Note Lengths

Let’s explore the most common note lengths – whole notes, half notes, quarter note, eighth notes and sixteenth notes.

When learning how to read sheet music you need to ask yourself 3 questions about a note’s appearance in order to work out its length….

1. Is the notehead filled in?
2. Does the note have a stem?
3. Does the stem have a tail?

These 3 variables combine to tell you how long a note should be held for. Let’s have a look at the most common note lengths.

### Whole Note or Semibreve

The whole note (or semibreve) is the simplest note to write in music as it is a notehead with no stem/tail and it is not filled in:

You will often hear it said that a whole note or semibreve is worth “4 beats”.
Whilst this is true in time signatures such as 4/4, 2/4 and 3/4 it is not always correct – e.g. in compound time.
You need to be careful not to assume that note durations are always linked to beats so clearly as this depends on what time signature a piece of music is written in.

### Half Note or Minim

A half note (or minim) is half the value of a whole note. Therefore, 2 half notes add up to the same length as one whole note.
The half notes symbol is a notehead with a stem:

### Quarter Note or Crotchet

A quarter note (or crotchet) is a quarter of the value of a whole note. Therefore, 4 quarter notes add up to one whole note.
Here is the symbol for the quarter note/crotchet. You can see that the notehead is filled in:

### Eighth Note or Quaver

Eighth notes (or quavers) are half the value of a quarter note. As a result, 8 eighth notes are equivalent to 1 whole note.
The symbol for an Eighth note is a quarter note with an added tail:

### Sixteenth Note or Semiquaver

Sixteenth notes or semiquavers are half the value of the eight notes and so there are 16 of them in a whole note.
Their symbol has 2 tails:

You may also come across notes with 3 tails (hemidemisemiquavers), but these are very rare!

### Note Lengths Summary

Here is a summary table of the note lengths and how they relate to each other:

You can see that the quarter note (crotchet) has a filled notehead, a stem, but no tail. If you un-fill the notehead and remove the stem the note length gets longer. If you add more tails to the stem, the note gets progressively shorter.

#### Note Stems up or down

Note length symbols with stems can be written with the stems going up or down depending on where they are placed on the stave:

If a note is above the middle line of the stave then the stems are drawn down from the note (starting on the left hand side of the notehead).
If a note is below the middle line of the stave then the stems are written upwards from the note (starting on the right hand side of the notehead).
If a note is on the middle line then the stem can be drawn either upwards or downwards depending on the surrounding notes and whether they have predominantly upwards/downwards stems.

#### What about Notes With Beams?

Many of my students get confused over beamed notes – the good news is that they are actually very simple. If you put 2 eighth notes (quavers) next to each other, instead of writing 2 separate notes with 2 tails you join the tails together to make a beam. So, all the notes in the score below are the same length….

You can do the same with 2 sixteenth notes (semiquavers) by joining both the pairs of tails together to make 2 beams….

You can even mix and match….

There are a few guidelines about beaming notes in traditional music notation.
For example, eighth notes should not be beamed together across the middle of a bar of 4/4 whilst shorter notes are beamed together in beats.

If you want to explore more complex note lengths then you may want to have a look at my lessons on dotted notes and tied notes.