Music theory > Duration of sounds > Note values

Note values

The anatomy of a note sign

The anatomy of a note sign

Notes have a pitch but also a duration. To determine the duration of a note, each note sign is composed of three distinct parts: The note-head, the stem (or tail) and the hook (or flag).

The note-head whose position on the stave actually sets its pitch, can be open (white) or closed (black).

The stem (or tail): If the stem points up from a note head, the stem start from the right side of the note, but if it points down, it start from the left. The stem support the hook and determine some note durations.

The hook (or flag) determine some note durations.

Note signs

SignsNames
double-whole note (breve)united states of america Double-whole note
united kingdom Breve
whole note (semibreve)united states of america Whole note
united kingdom Semibreve
half note (minim)united states of america Half note
united kingdom Minim
quarter note (crotchet)united states of america Quarter note
united kingdom Crotchet
Eighth note (Quaver)united states of america Eighth note
united kingdom Quaver
sixteenth note (semiquaver)united states of america Sixteenth note
united kingdom Semiquaver
thirty-second note (demisemiquaver)united states of america Thirty-second note
united kingdom Demisemiquaver
sixty-fourth note (hemidemisemiquaver)united states of america Sixty-fourth note
united kingdom Hemidemisemiquaver
one hundred and twenty-eighth note (semihemidemisemiquaver)united states of america One hundred and twenty-eighth note
united kingdom Semihemidemisemiquaver

Note signs equivalences


Note signs equivalences

For Americans united states of america :

One double-whole note is equivalent to two whole notes
One whole note is equivalent to two half notes
One half note is equivalent to two quarter notes
One quarter note is equivalent to two eighth notes
One eighth note is equivalent to two sixteenth notes
One sixteenth note is equivalent to two thirty-second notes
One thirty-second note is equivalent to two sixty-fourth notes
One sixty-fourth note is equivalent to two one hundred and twenty-eighth notes


For British united kingdom :

One breve is equivalent to two semibreves
One semibreve is equivalent to two minims
One minim is equivalent to two crotchets
One crotchet is equivalent to two quavers
One quaver is equivalent to two semiquaves
One semiquaver is equivalent to two demisemiquavers
One demisemiquaver is equivalent to two hemidemisemiquavers
One hemidemisemiquaver is equivalent to two semihemidemisemiquavers

Note values tree

All notes values can be drawn on a tree:

Note values tree

Double-whole note united states of america / Breve united kingdom

double-whole note (breve)

united states of america One Double-whole note is equivalent to 2 Whole note, or 4 Half note, or 8 Quarter note, or 16 Eighth note, or 32 Sixteenth note, or 64 Thirty-second note, or 128 Sixty-fourth note, or 256 One hundred and twenty-eighth note

united kingdom One Breve is equivalent to 2 Semibreve, or 4 Minim, or 8 Crotchet, or 16 Semiquaver, or 32 Semiquaver, or 64 Demisemiquaver, or 128 Hemidemisemiquaver, or 256 Semihemidemisemiquaver

The double-whole note (Breve) has no stem and no flag.

Whole note united states of america / Semibreve united kingdom

whole note (semibreve)

united states of america One Whole note is equivalent to 2 Half note, or 4 Quarter note, or 8 Eighth note, or 16 Sixteenth note, or 32 Thirty-second note, or 64 Sixty-fourth note, or 128 One hundred and twenty-eighth note

united kingdom One Semibreve is equivalent to 2 Minim, or 4 Crotchet, or 8 Semiquaver, or 16 Semiquaver, or 32 Demisemiquaver, or 64 Hemidemisemiquaver, or 128 Semihemidemisemiquaver

The whole note (Semibreve) has no stem and no flag.

Half note united states of america / Minim united kingdom

half note (minim)

united states of america One Half note is equivalent to 2 Quarter note, or 4 Eighth note, or 8 Sixteenth note, or 16 Thirty-second note, or 32 Sixty-fourth note, or 64 One hundred and twenty-eighth note

united kingdom One Minim is equivalent to 2 Crotchet, or 4 Semiquaver, or 8 Semiquaver, or 16 Demisemiquaver, or 32 Hemidemisemiquaver, or 64 Semihemidemisemiquaver

Quarter note united states of america / Crotchet united kingdom

quarter note (crotchet)

united states of america One Quarter note is equivalent to 2 Eighth note, or 4 Sixteenth note, or 8 Thirty-second note, or 16 Sixty-fourth note, or 32 One hundred and twenty-eighth note

united kingdom One Crotchet is equivalent to 2 Semiquaver, or 4 Semiquaver, or 8 Demisemiquaver, or 16 Hemidemisemiquaver, or 32 Semihemidemisemiquaver

Eighth note united states of america / Quaver united kingdom

Eighth note (Quaver)

united states of america One Eighth note is equivalent to 2 Sixteenth note, or 4 Thirty-second note, or 8 Sixty-fourth note, or 16 One hundred and twenty-eighth note

united kingdom One Quaver is equivalent to 2 Semiquaver, or 4 Demisemiquaver, or 8 Hemidemisemiquaver, or 16 Semihemidemisemiquaver

The eighth note (quaver) has only 1 flag (hook), and when there are several eighth notes (quavers) that follow each other than we can write like this:
Successive eighth notes

Sixteenth note united states of america / Semiquaver united kingdom

sixteenth note (semiquaver)

united states of america One Sixteenth note is equivalent to 2 Thirty-second note, or 4 Sixty-fourth note, or 8 One hundred and twenty-eighth note

united kingdom One Semiquaver is equivalent to 2 Demisemiquaver, or 4 Hemidemisemiquaver, or 8 Semihemidemisemiquaver

The sixteenth note (semiquaver) has 2 flags (hooks), and when there are several sixteenth notes (semiquavers) that follow each other than we can write like this:
Successive sixteenth notes

Thirty-second note united states of america / Demisemiquaver united kingdom

thirty-second note (demisemiquaver)

united states of america One Thirty-second note is equivalent to 2 Sixty-fourth note, or 4 One hundred and twenty-eighth note

united kingdom One Demisemiquaver is equivalent to 2 Hemidemisemiquaver, or 4 Semihemidemisemiquaver

The thirty-second note (demisemiquaver) has 3 flags (hooks), and when there are several thirty-second notes (demisemiquavers) that follow each other than we can write like this:
Successive thirty-second notes

Sixty-fourth note united states of america / Hemidemisemiquaver united kingdom

sixty-fourth note (hemidemisemiquaver)

united states of america One Sixty-fourth note is equivalent to 2 One hundred and twenty-eighth note

united kingdom One Hemidemisemiquaver is equivalent to 2 Semihemidemisemiquaver

The sixty-fourth note (hemidemisemiquaver) has 4 flags (hooks), and when there are several sixty-fourth notes (hemidemisemiquavers) that follow each other than we can write like this:
Successive sixty-fourth notes

One hundred and twenty-eighth note united states of america / Semihemidemisemiquaver united kingdom

one hundred and twenty-eighth note (semihemidemisemiquaver)

The one hundred and twenty-eighth note (semihemidemisemiquaver) has 5 flag (hook), and when there are several one hundred and twenty-eighth notes (semihemidemisemiquavers) that follow each other than we can write like this:
Successive One hundred and twenty-eighth notes

Stems orientation

Stems can point up or down:

If the stem points up from a note head, the stem start from the right side of the note, but if it points down, it start from the left. For the sound of the note and for its duration, the orientation of stems has no importance.

We prefer this:

Stems orientation

to this:

Stems orientation


In the example below, all notes are sounding the same (same duration, same pitch)

Stem orientation example


Sometimes, orientations of stems are used to indicate the separation of the voices:


Beams

A beam is a horizontal or diagonal line used to connect consecutive notes. Most of the time, note are grouped by beat and only eighth notes (quavers) or shorter can be beamed.

In the example below, the two staves produce exactly the same sounds and the same rhythms.

Beams

Abbreviations used for notation of beams

Abbreviations can be used for notation of beams:

Beams abbreviations

Empty spaces between notes

Space between notes don't change the rhythms or the duration of the notes:

Space between notes


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