Notes and Rests

Topics covered on this page: Values of notes and rests – Dotted notes – Division of dotted notes and undotted notes and rests – Units in simple and compound time – Terms for tempo – Metronome indications

These notes below are used to show the duration of tones: double whole note (or breve), whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note, thirty-second note, sixty-fourth note, 128th note.


Examine the pictures below and the names of the various parts of the note:

A quarter note:
quarter note anatomy


An eighth note:

eighth note anatomy


When drawing notes, it is common for the stem to be one octave in length. They should be placed on the right side of the note head and extend upwards if the note is below the middle/third line of the staff.


When the note is above the third line of the staff, the stem is placed on the left side of the head and extends downward.


When the note is on the third line, the stem may extend upward or downward though most commonly notation prefers it to point downward.


Beams are used to join several notes together that have flags. They help in keeping the notes clear to read and legible. The notes usually have to have the same metrical time unit to be connected with beams. Example 2 shows an exception.

Example 1


Example 2
The stems can sometimes be placed differently when using beams rather than flags. When the majority of the notes are above the third line of the staff, the stems will extend downward. If the majority of notes are below the third line of the staff, the stems will extend upward.


When all the notes are to be beamed together and the number of notes above the middle line of the staff equal the number below the middle line, the direction of the stems are determined by the note which is farthest from the middle line.

Take a look at the notes and their subdivisions, or how equally they can be divided up. Each row can be subdivided into the row below that. The bottom row has the same duration value as the top row, for example.


Rests are musical symbols that indicate a duration of silence. Just like notes which represent sound of different lengths of time, there are matching rests that represent lengths of silence. For example, a quarter note of a tone has a silence counterpart of a quarter rest. There are also half rests, whole rests, eights rests, sixteenth rests, etc. When reading music, it is as important to correctly internally “hear” or understand the silence as the sound.


From looking at the above chart we see that a whole rest equals two half rests, a half rest equals two quarter rests, a quarter rest equals two eighth rests, and so on…

The half rest and whole rest are easily confused sometimes. A good way of remembering is that a whole rest looks like a “hole” in the ground. It hangs from the fourth line of the staff.

A whole rest


A hole in the ground 🙂


Another way of expressing both musical sound and silence is the dot. Dots can be added to both notes and rests to add one-half to its original value. In the case of a dotted quarter note, half the value of a quarter is an eighth -so a quarter note tied to an eighth note equals a dotted quarter note. This is shown in the first example below:

Dotted whole notes through dotted 8th notes:

An additional dot may be applied to a dotted note.

See the chart below which examines the subdivision.

Notes by themselves do not indicate tempo or how fast or slow a piece of music is. There needs to be an indication of at the beginning of the piece which specifies how many beats per minute or a term expressing an approximation.

Below is a chart of some of the more common tempo descriptions and their approximate bpm (beats per minute). These tempo terms are Italian in origin.


Next section is Time Signatures