In this free music lesson we’ll look at the basics of counting notes, a skill you can use for both reading and writing music. It’s one thing to be able to feel music and another to be able to write down what you compose so that other people can play it.
Counting in music is like eating pie. You can eat the whole thing (yum!), only 1/2 of it (still yummy), 1/4 of it (good if you’re less hungry), or 1/8th of it.
So there are:
• Whole notes – like a whole pie
• Half notes – like half of it
• Quarter notes – 1/4 of the pie
• Eighth notes – 1/8th of the pie
There are also 16th notes, 32nd notes, etc. but we’re not going to look at them in this lesson.
Some countries call these notes by other names:
• whole note (semibreve)
• half note (minim)
• quarter note (crotchet)
• sixteenth note (semiquaver)
Here’s what whole, half, quarter and eighth notes look like…
Whole notes look like a whole pie.
Half notes look like a pie with a handle or stem.
Quarter notes look like half notes but are filled in (“pie filling).
Eighth notes look like quarter notes, but they have a “flag” on the stem.
For now, we’ll assume the piece of music we’re looking at is in 4/4 time. So we’re going to count in fours: 1-2-3-4, then 1-2-3-4 again, etc.
A note that lasts half as long as a whole note is a half note. A note that lasts a quarter as long as a whole note is a quarter note. A note that lasts an eighth as long as a whole note is an eighth note.
A whole note gets 4 counts.
A half note gets 2 counts.
A quarter note gets 1 count.
An eight note gets only ½ a count.
So when you play a whole note, you hold it for 4 counts: 1-2-3-4.
When you play a half note, you hold it for 2 counts: 1-2
When you play a quarter note, you hold it for 1 count: 1
When you play an eighth note, you hold it for ½ a count: 1/2
So if you have two half notes, one after the other, you count 1-2 for the first half-note, and 3-4 for the second half-note.
If you have four quarter notes, one after the other, you count 1-2-3-4 (one count for each one).
If you have eighth notes, you start counting ANDS, like 1-AND is how you count two eighth notes in a row.
If you have four eighth notes in a row, you’d count 1-AND-2-AND…
1 for the first eighth note, AND for the second eighth note, 2 for the third eighth note, AND for the fourth eighth note.
Of course, this is only a quick introduction to counting notes in music, but that skill will carry you quite far if you pick it up.
All the best,
BellaOnline’s Musician Editor