Grade One Music Theory - Lesson 7: Beaming Notes (UK Version)
Click here to see this page with the note names in American English
We have already learnt that in music theory, notes which are smaller than one beat - quavers and semiquavers - have tails. To make music easier to read, we normally group these small notes together in complete beats. To do this, we join the tails together, making them into a straight line. We call this line a "beam"- these are beamed notes.
Making Beamed Notes
Notes with one tail (quavers and dotted quavers) have one beam. Semiquavers have two tails so they have two beams, which are drawn quite close together. Here are some examples of beamed quaver notes.
Quavers can be beamed to semiquavers like this:
We can also join dotted quavers to semiquavers with beams, like this:
Notice that the lower semiquaver beam is quite short. This is a cut-off beam.
We find cut-off beams in music theory when a single semiquaver is joined to a quaver. Cut-off beams are quite short - they should be about as wide as the note-head. They can point in either direction, depending on which side of the quaver they are on. Here's another example of beamed notes which have cut-off beams:
Grouping Beamed Notes
We use beams to group notes together in whole beats. So, semiquaver notes are beamed together in fours:
We also usually group quavers in fours, making two beats:
Beaming and Rests
We can include rests inside a group of beamed notes. Rests themselves are never beamed - we simply insert them between the notes. We can change their horizontal position on the stave if we need to, to make the music clearer.
The semiquaver rest has been moved downwards a little bit so that it doesn't get mixed up with the beamed notes.
Sometimes we need to beam together notes which are quite far apart on the stave. How should these two notes be beamed?
Keep in your mind the fact that beaming exists to help us read music quickly. Beaming should follow the general direction of the music, from left to right. If the music is getting higher, the beam should point upwards; if it's getting lower it should be downwards. If the pitch of the beamed notes is the same, the beam should not slant at all.
In our example, the music is getting higher, so the beam has to slant upwards.
Stem Direction - Beaming Two Notes
Now we have to choose whether to make the stems point up or down:
Which one looks better to you?
To work out which way to draw your stems when beaming two notes, first you need to work out which note is furthest from the middle line.
In our example above, the bottom D is further away from the centre line than the top D is.
The note which is furthest away from the middle line tells us which way we should draw our stems.
The bottom D has its stem pointing upwards, so that's the direction we should use with our beaming:
is the right answer!
If we had to beam the following -
we would draw our stems the same way round. Here, the bottom D is still further away, so we follow this D's stem direction:
However, if we change the notes to Fs, you will notice that we have to change to stems down, because the top F is further from the middle line than the bottom F:
so in this case the beamed notes have their stems the other way round.
Stem Direction - Three or More Notes Beamed Together
When beaming together groups of three or more notes, we need to look at all the notes in the group and see how many are above the middle line and how many are below it. If there are more notes above the middle line, stems will point downwards. If there are more notes below the middle line, stems will point upwards.
Here's an example:
There are three notes above the middle line, so the stems point downwards.
If there is an equal number of notes above and below the middle line, use the note which is furthest away from the middle line as your guide.
The furthest note from the middle line is the F, so we use stems up.
Sometimes you might find that you have to break the rules in order for your music to look ok when writing beamed notes. Don't worry if that's the case - these are really guidelines rather than music theory rules. Use the rules of beaming where you can but don't be afraid to try something different if it makes the music clearer!