Back to start Email me Simple note lengths Neil Hawes Home Page
• The previous description of beats and bars showed how music is notated horizontally on the page, moving from left to right.
• The head of the note represents when the note is first heard;
• The shape of the note represents how long it lasts for (relative to other notes).

• This example shows four bars (or measures) containing examples of the four most common lengths of notes:
• Since bars are always the same length, these four bars contain the same lengths of notes;
• So you can see that one semibreve is the same length as two minims;
• Similarly, four crochets is the same as both of these;
• So two crotchets is the same as one minim;
• And two quavers are the same length as one crotchet.

• The US names are written underneath - these are easier to understand providing you can work out a few easy fractions!

• Notice that horizontal positions and lengths on the page are only approximate:
• So if you used a ruler to measure each bar, they are not all the same length;
• But they sound for exactly the same length of time.

• Notice how the different note lengths are drawn:
• Semibreves are drawn as a bold oval note head;
• Minims are drawn as a regular oval with a stem:
• A stem always goes down from the far left of the oval, or up from the far right of the oval;
• The vertical positions of the note heads in this example have been drawn only to show the two possible directions of the stems;
• Stems normally go up if the note head is in the bottom half of the stave or down if it is in the top half, but there are exceptions to this.
• Crotchets are drawn the same as minims, but with a filled-in note head;
• Quavers are the same as crotchets but with the addition of a tail:
• The tail can be a beam joining two or more quavers together;
• Or, on a single quaver, it is a curly appendage on the right of the stem.

• You can find more details on note lengths here if you want them at this stage, otherwise we will cover more complex rhythms later.

• So we can now try some simple clapping exercises:
• To do this, you need to clap at the point where each note would start sounding;
• Obviously a clap is a very short sound, and doesn't last for the length of the note;
• But since there are no gaps, if you clap in the right places, you will know where each note has to start;
• So when we come to sing a rhythm, you should find it no harder than clapping.

• A count of the number of crotchets per bar is written underneath to help you:
• You need to count these in a regular rhythm;
• Count to 4 at an even, regular speed before you start to give yourself the speed of the beats.

If you are unsure how to do this, click here. This starts with four soft drum beats to give you the speed, and then starts with the first note above. Each note head is played with a loud drum beat, but the regular soft drum beat carries on underneath. Try counting and clapping with this, including counting to 4 before starting to clap.

• Here's another one. Click here to hear it for help, or afterwards to check if you were right.

• This one is very similar to the previous one, but introduces quavers:
• You must continue counting the beats of each bar evenly, but you must also insert the "and" (&) where there is a quaver;
• The "and" must come exactly half-way between one beat and the next;
• You may need to takes the beats a bit slower to get the faster claps in.

If you are unsure about this, here (140Kb) is a wav file of me doing this exercise with counting and clapping.

• Here are some more for you to try (without help). The horizontal distances are not always exactly right, so don't be put off by how close the notes are together. Don't forget to count a whole bar of regular beats before you start.

• Careful with this one! It doesn't start on the first beat of the bar, but the fourth, so you have to count only to three before you start, and the first clap comes on "4". It doesn't finish at the end of a bar either!

• This one only has three beats in each bar, so instead of counting to four throughout, you must only count to three. Beware of leaving a gap where the fourth beat should come. If you get this right, it may remind you of "Lavender's blue dilly dilly".

• And finally, this one has three beats in each bar but starts on the third beat, so you only count to two before you start, and the first clap comes on "three".

• When you are reasonably confident with clapping these rhythms, try singing some of the exercises above to "Laa":
• Sing everything on one note, it doesn't matter what note, so it will sound rather boring to anyone listening;
• But it's very useful for sight-reading preparation, you will be getting consonant and vowel sounds in the correct places for a given rhythm;
• The "Le" sound - where your tongue clicks forward to make this sound - must occur exactly where you would have clapped in the previous exercises;
• So you could try doing both at once, just to check you are doing it right;
• The continuing "Ah" sound after the "Le" click should continue until the next "L" sound, so there are no gaps at all between notes;
• You should still count the regular beats before you start - it's best to speak these so you know exactly when the real notes start;
• You should take a deep breath before you start and try to do it in one breath - but do take a breath in the middle of the exercise if you have to;
• it's no use being a good sight-singer if you are lying on the floor blue in the face!
• You should aim to get a clear, consistent sound with a steady note, not too soft;
• Do not try to imitate any singer you may have heard who might not sing a steady note:
• Pop singers as well as opera singers sometimes "swoop" or "glide" to a note and "wobble" or "vibrate" (called "vibrato") on a note;
• Folk-style singers also tend to put extra short notes on the beginning of what should be a plain note (it's a form of decoration);
• None of these are to be encouraged at this stage of learning.
• Try to be aware of the consonant sound (the "Le") being on the same note as the vowel sound (the "Ah") so that the note flows without a break.

Click here if you want help. This is the last exercise above played on one note. You need to only count to two before starting.

• When you get fed up with "Laa" (which gets the tongue working), try "Mee" (forces a smile) or "Yah" (gets the jaw working).

For more details on note lengths, see Basic Music Theory - note lengths