Facts You Need To Know About Musical Note and Their Symbol

musical_note

In musical notation, the musical notes and their symbols are used to represent musical sounds on the staff to defined the pitch and time value of a tone. Majorly, musical notes symbolize the duration of a sound and also a pitch when placed on a staff. The musical note is the major component of written music. Specifically, two things are very important in music. Firstly, the pitch of a tone that describes how high or low a note is. And secondly, the length of a note which describes how long or short a tone will sound.

In reality, the system of written music on the paper employs lines and symbols called staff and notes respectively. The groups of lines are called staff (or stave), as discussed in The Music Staff Set Up And How To Read It, is normally used to mark the pitch of a tone.

On the order hand, notes make use of shapes to let us how long or short a particular tone will sound before it stops. However, it is very essential to know every note we have by their name and time value. Also, we need to know how each note is related to other notes in terms of time value. Above all, this knowledge of note will actually be a great help to anyone in learning how to read music.

In order to achieve this, we will be looking into the musical notes and their time value. However, we will start with the note anatomy and from there to their time or beat value.

Musical Notes Anatomy
Musical Note Anatomy

The note is a musical symbol used to represent musical sounds on the staff to defined the pitch and time value of a tone. Notes written on a music staff represent the pitch of a tone and how long it will sound. The note derived from nota (Latin, a mark or sign) consists of either one, two, or three parts (as shown above). These parts are referred to respectively as head, stem, and flag (or hook).

Firstly, the head of note is the elliptical (or oval) part of a note. In particular, it is an oval shape that may be colored completely black or white to depict the value of the note. Secondly, the stem of a note is a line or bar that attached to the head of a note. The stem of a note appears on the right side of the head when turned up and on the left side of the head when turned down. Also, it connects flag of a note that carry flag with the head. Lastly, a musical note’s flag is a little line that comes off the top or bottom of the note stem. The flag is often called tail (or cross- stroke) and is always on the right side.

ALSO READ: What You Need To Know About Musical Sound and Tone
Musical notes and their symbols

The word note is music is associated with the length of musical sound or tone. In sort, the major function of a note is to depict exactly how long a specific pitch should be held by the voice or instrument. These musical notes are of various structures that indicate values and duration or length of a tone.

Notes are like letters of the alphabet if we think of music as a language. They are that basic to the construction of a piece of music. Studying how note values fit against each other in a piece of sheet music is even more important than their musical pitches. This is so because if you change the notes values in a piece of music, you end up with completely different music. That is the basics of rhythms.

Type of staff notes and Their Values
Musical notes and their symbols

The musical notes and their symbols are used to stand for a musical tone or sound.Notes come in different flavours, each with its own note value. Before we go into detail on each kind of note, have a look at the diagram below, which shows most of the kinds of notes you will encounter in music arrangement so that their values add up the same in each row. The value of the half note is half of a whole note, the value of a quarter note is a quarter of a whole note, and so on. From the diagram below, each level of the “tree of notes” is equal to the others.

We have six principal notes which are in common use nowadays and one that is not commonly use. These are described in the table below.

NameDescription Beat Value
BreveBreve is represented by a hollow oval note head with no stem, like a whole note, with one or two vertical lines on either side. It has the time value of eight beats and lasts twice as long as a whole note. It is also called double whole note.Play for 8 (eight) beats.
SemibreveSemibreve is represented by an open hollow oval note head, like that of a half note (or minim), and no note stem. It has the time value of four beats and is equivalent to two half notes or four quarter notes. It is also called a whole note.Play for 4 (four) beats
MinimMinim is represented by hollow oval note head like a whole note and straight note stem with no flags like a quarter note. It has a time value of two beats. It is also called a half note.Play for 2 (two) beats
ALSO READ: The Music Staff Set Up And How To Read It
Musical notes and their symbols
NameDescriptionBeat Value
CrotchetCrotchet is represented by a filled-in oval note head and a straight, flagless stem. It has the time value of a half of a half note or one beat and is indicated by a filled oval with a stem. It’s also called a quarter notePlay for 1 (one) beats
QuaverQuaver is represented by oval, filled-in note head and a straight note stem with one flag. It has the time value of the half of a quarter note or a half of a beat and is indicated by a filled oval, a stem, and one flag. It’s also called a eighth note.Play for 1/2 (half) beats
SemiquaverSemiquaver is represented by oval, filled-in note head and a straight note stem with two flags. It’s also called a sixteenth note.Play for 1/4 (quarter) beats
DemisemiquaverDemisemiquaver is represented by oval, filled-in note head and a straight note stem with three flags. It’s also called a thirty-second  note.Play for 1/8 (eighth) beats

The musical piece in common time signature (i.e. 4/4) time, this is also called common time, a whole note will last for four beats count, a half note will last for two beats count, and a quarter note will last one beat count. An eighth note will last for half a beat and a sixteenth note will just last for a quarter of a beat in 4/4 time.

Writing notes on Staff (Stave)

Whenever you are writing music, know that you are trying to communicate with a reader and legibility is therefore important. In the modern world of today, we can use a software package like Sibelius, Muse Score, Finale, etc. to write and print a music sheet. However, when we are writing staff notation by hand on our music manuscript, we need to be guided to make our music legible for our readers. There must be orderliness in writing of musical notes on the stave so as to make the reading and playing of music easy.

Musical notes and their symbols-Writing Notes on staff

When only one part (or voice) is written on the staff, the following rules must be applied:

(1) The head of the notes must be properly placed on the line or in the space.

(2) If the note head is below the third line; the stem must point up.

(3) If the note-head is above the third line the stem must point down.

(4) If the note-head is on the third line the stem can point to up or down and we need to put the direction of the flag into consideration as well.

 (5) Upward and the downward stem is written to the right side of the head.

(6) Ensure stems are properly joined to their note-heads and hooks (tail) to their head

ALSO READ: Articulation Symbols In Music And Their Functions

Notes with a flag that are more than one and appears next to each other can also be connected to each other with a beam (sometimes called a ligature), instead of each note getting a flag. This is really another, more organized-looking incarnation of the flag. Using beams instead of individual flags on notes is simply a case of trying to clean up an otherwise messy-looking piece of musical notation.

To improve the readability, replace the flags of the notes with beams that will join the notes together into a grouping. Note that you will replace the single flags with single beams and double flags with the double beams and so on.

Musical notes and their symbols
Musical notes with flags and beams
Notes and Beat Counting

Knowledge of counting the beat of note is very important in music reading. In fact, it is one of the skills that will actually be of help in all your musical path. Also, it is very needful when you want to play or sing with other musicians. So, learning note values is just a basic requirement to this end. What you need to know is how long each note will last before you pause or move to order notes.

In this section, we will look into ways we can count our beat by using 4/4 time. In order to achieve this, we will employ the usage of “numbers” (i.e. 1,2,3,4, etc.) and word (basically “and”). Also, we need to count the beats out aloud with our numbers and word. And whenever you are counting out the beats, only count as high as the highest-valued note in a selection.

i. Semibreve (Whole Note)

This is a musical note with tone value of four (4) beats. If you were to see a line of whole notes, you would count them out like this:

One (CLAP) – Two – Three – Four – One (CLAP) – Two – Three – FourOne (CLAP) – Two – Three – FourOne (CLAP) – Two – Three – Four

“CLAP” means you clap your hands for one beat, and “two-three-four” is what you say out loud as the note is held for four beats.

Musical notes and their symbols
ii. Minim (Half Note)

This is a musical note with tone value of two (2) beats measure. A half note will last for half as long as a whole note. Whenever you count out the half notes, it will sound like this:

One (CLAP) – TwoOne (CLAP) – TwoOne (CLAP) – TwoOne (CLAP) – Two

“CLAP” means you clap your hands for one beat, and “two” is what you say out loud as the note is held for two beats.

iii. Crotchet (Quarter Note)

This is a musical note with tone value of one (1) beats measure. Divide a whole note (with a four beats value) by four, and will you get a quarter note with a note value of one beat.

Four quarter notes are counted out like this:

One (CLAP)Two (CLAP)Three (CLAP) – Four (CLAP)  

You would only count up to one because the highest valued note is a quarter note which is just a beat. A “CLAP” means you clap your hands for one beat.

iv. Quaver (Eighth Notes)

This is a musical note with tone value of half (1/2) beats measure. Absolutely, the eighth note has a value of half of a quarter note. Eight notes of eighth note (quaver) will last for the same duration as one whole note, which means that an eighth note will last half a beat (in 4/4, or common, time).

Eighth notes can be counted out like this:

Tap your toe for the beat count while you clap your hands twice for every toe tap you make.

One (CLAP) and (CLAP)

Two (CLAP) and (CLAP)

Three (CLAP) and (CLAP) 

Four (CLAP) and (CLAP) 

You can also count it out as follows: ONE-and TWO-and THREE-and FOUR-and

The numbers you pronounce in the count represent four beats, and the “ands” are the half beats.

NOTES: To master the beat counting, do not mind the speed and focus more on the accuracy. You can also use a metronome to set a pace for yourself.


At Phamox Music, we go all out for exactness and honesty. For this purpose, if by any means you found any possible glitch, be it factual, editorial or something that we need to update, kindly contact us.


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One thought on “Facts You Need To Know About Musical Note and Their Symbol

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    I have an assignment for school and I’m gonna stick to knowledge from this post …

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