This week over on the Practice Pad we’re taking a look at some very basic rhythms, namely the whole note, half note, quarter note, along with whole rests, half rests, and quarter rests. We’re also beginning with an explanation of what a measure is, and what a time signature is and how to make use of it. Please check out the related video for an in-depth examination of these rhythm basics.
First of all the main unit that we talk about on the music page is known as the ‘measure‘ or ‘bar’. The terms are interchangeable, each bar (or measure) is separated by bar lines, and a measure constitutes the smallest segments of music we see generally speaking. Each bar refers back to the clef, the key signature, and the time signature for information you need to know about the bar of music you are looking at. The clef, key signature, and time signature can be found at the beginning of the chart, exercise, or piece of music you are playing. In the case of music which has clef, key or time changes within the piece, you would refer back to the most recent change when figuring out how to interpret the notes and rests you are dealing with inside the framework of the measure.
Secondly, as far as the time signature is concerned, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t matter whether it’s a note or a rest, as long as they add up to an entire measures worth of beats. All of those notes and/or rests just need to add up to the amount of beats the time signature is calling for. The top number in the time signature tells you how many notes belong in one bar. Think of the top number as ‘how many’. But that doesn’t give you quite enough information, because you also need to know what kind of note is considered to be one beat. That’s what that bottom number in the time signature is for, it’s telling you what type of note equals one beat within the bar. For example, a 4 in the bottom of the time signature stands for a quarter note. An 8 would be an eighth note, a 2 a half-note, and so on. Sometimes in modern music you might even see a quarter note or a half note or an eighth note printed in the bottom space of the time signature rather than a number. But generally speaking you’ll see a number unless you’re dealing with common time or cut time, which we’ll get to in an upcoming lesson.
A whole note in a 4/4 measure sustains for the entire four beats. The whole note is equivalent to four quarter notes. A half note sustains for two beats, equivalent to two quarter notes in this case, and a quarter note is sustained for one beat so it would take four quarter notes to fill up one 4/4 measure, two half notes, one whole note, or a combination of these notes and/or rests adding up to four quarter notes in total.
Regarding rests, sometimes whole rests vs half rests can be confusing since they look very similar. The whole note rest is a small rectangle which hangs down from the second line and is very similar to the half note rest, except the half note rest does not hang down, it sits atop the third line. So you can think of the whole note rest as like a top tooth and the half note rest as like a bottom tooth or something like that if that makes it easy for you to remember. In any case, the whole note rest is a rectangle that hangs down from the second line, the half note rest sits on the third line.
You can interchange the notes and/or the rests within a bar, as long as they add up to four quarter notes (again, four quarter notes would be needed in 4/4 time we’ll get to other time signatures in future tutorials). You can also mix them up. A half-note along with a couple of quarter notes, a half note rest and a half note, a half note rest and two quarter notes, any combination is fine. We’ll get into smaller units such as sixteenths and thirty-second notes too, as well as triplets and other unusual groupings, in our upcoming videos and lessons.
See you in the next lesson, feel free to leave a question or a comment if you’d like (we always read all comments!), and thanks very much for checking out UpbeatRhythms.com!