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The Musical Notes And Their Time Values In Staff Music

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Introduction To Music Notes and Their Time Values

The basics of (staff) music notation are to use musical notes and staff lines to properly establish every property of music tone like pitch and duration on paper in writing form. 

This is possible with well-established music staff or staves which we use to define tone or sound’s pitch. 

The other aspect that makes music notation possible is music notes and their time value which signify the duration of a musical tone. 

These music notes and their time value are key to proper bar line and time signature that set the tone for rhythms in music notation.

All these components we have mentioned and other factors are essential features that make proper writing and reading of music possible.

Now, it is very clear that writing and reading musical notation requires different skills. In spite of that, knowledge of musical notes and their time values is very essential. 

The knowledge of musical notes and their time values is the fundamental aspect of studying music and learning how to sight-read music.

Although musical notes and their time values are not hard to learn. But mastering the essential aspect of it like knowing all the musical notes’ names and their corresponding note value is very important. 

Moreover, one should know the name of every part of the music notes. One should also know how to draw every music note that we have properly.

This post will walk us through the basic knowledge we need to get acquainted with and master the musical notes and their time values. 

All we need to do is focus and study each section with internal attention. Without any further ado, let see what musical notes and their time value are.

Musical Notes

In musical notation, the musical or music notes and their values are represented by special symbols in staff music notation. In other word, the special symbols are used in staff music to represent musical sounds on the staff to defined the pitch and time value of a tone.

Majorly, music 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.

So we can specifically define music notes as special symbols used in music to indicate the sound.

To understand these special symbols we called music note better, we will look into music note anatomy in the next section.

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 or beat duration.

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

Musical 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.

Final Thought on Musical Notes

There are more about musical notes and their time value in staff music notation. But I will discuss them in different posts. 

All the same, we should have it in mind that as we note that indicate sound we have notes that indicate silence. 

The musical notes that denote musical rest and their value were discussed in the Practical Guide To Musical Rest In Sheet Music post.

Also, there are ways we can extend the time value of all the music notes that we have. This aspect of increasing the time value of a musical note is achieved by one or two dots. 

We discussed this in detail in the Dotted Notes and How To Read Them In Music post.

Finally, we need to properly study all these aspects of music notes and their time value to thoroughly master reading music.


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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4 thoughts on “The Musical Notes And Their Time Values In Staff Music

  1. Kelvin Paul says:

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

  2. John P Dempsey says:

    Hi I was just looking for this type of thing to get back onto playing the organ again after a long time and the only thing I have to ask is why would you mention the Breve and value etc and then give no picture as to the difference between it and the Semibreve. I am trying to see the difference between a hollow oval note and an open hollow oval note. Just thought it was weird that is all.

    1. Phamox Music says:

      Hello John,
      Thanks so much for your observation. We will look into that and update.
      Regards.

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