Rhythm primer (part 3): Basic Notes in Music

Welcome to the third part of the rhythm primer. We've already learned how to listen to music and find the underlying pulse. Remember that the pulse stays steady even if the length of the notes happening on top of that pulse change. In all the songs we've listened to so far we've counted the beat by counting to four. Most popular music counts to 4 but not all songs do. But we will continue to count to 4 until we get to the time signature lesson.

Now, lets talk about measures. So we've learned that the underlying pulse stays steady throughout a song and that how fast or slow that basic pulse is called tempo. Also we learned that a beat is a single pulse. Several notes can happen in the time of a single beat, but you can still feel the steady pulse just like a steady clock ticking. For the ease of reading music, we divide the song into small pieces called measures. Each measure is a group of 4 beats and will always begin with beat one. There can be sixteen or more notes in a measure or as few as one, but every measure in a song lasts for the same length of time. Each measure will start on beat one and count up to four.

The first kind of note we will look at is the whole note. When you play a whole note you hold out your note or chord for 4 beats. One thing to keep in mind is you start counting from the exact moment you strike your note. I've noticed some players will strike the note, pause for a second and then start counting. You don't want to do that! Listen to the whole note in action. There will be a 4 beat lead in (4 clicks so that you can feel the tempo) before the music starts. The recording will play two whole notes for a total of eight beats.

Did you hear how the last whole note ends just when you would expect to hear the next beat 1?

The second kind of note to learn is the half note. Single Half NoteIt looks like the whole note except that it has a stem attached to it. The half note is held for two beats. When counting out rhythms you want to keep counting the underling beat (1, 2, 3 , 4) instead of counting the length of each individual note (1 2, 1 2). Just like the whole note example, this example has a four count lead in before the music starts and there will be two measures of half notes.

Another type of note is the quarter note. It looks like a half note except that the note head is filled in black. The quarter note is worth only a single beat. Because you count the beats in a measure, and not how long you hold each note, you would count the two measures "one, two, three, four" and not "one, one, one, one."

So now you're familiar with measures, whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes. Next lesson we will look at more examples of how to use your new note!

Click here to go to the next lesson: Rhythms using Quarter, half and whole notes.

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