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victoria Williams Music Theory

Victoria Williams

LmusTCL BA Mus (Hons) MISM

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Next UK ABRSM Online Theory Exams Grades 6-8:
19th June 2021
Next UK Trinity Paper-based Theory Exams Grades 1-8:
Sat 8th May 2021

Grade 4 Music Theory Lesson 7: Breves and Double Dots (UK Version)



While studying up to ABRSM grade 3, the longest note we have come across is the semibreve - written as an open note-head without a stem.

We'll now learn about a note which is twice as long as a semibreve - the BREVE.

The breve is written just like a semibreve, plus 2 short, vertical lines on each side of the note head, like this:



 A breve is worth 2 semibreves, or 8 crotchets. 

We don't see breves very often - mainly because they last longer than a complete bar in most time signatures. They are just too big to use in 4/4 for example! Breves can be found in 4/2 (four minims per bar = 1 breve), for instance.


The breve rest is a solid block which fills in the gap of the C space (treble clef):



In the grade 4 exam, you might be asked to write a note as a breve. Quite often the question will ask you to write the enharmonic equivalent of a note from a score, as a breve. Make sure you have practised drawing them before your exam - they are not difficult, but it's easy to forget how to do them because we hardly ever see them!


Why is a breve called a breve? Many students wonder this, since the word sounds a lot like "brief", which means short!

"Breve" and "brief" are indeed connected - in the 13th century, the note we call a breve today was the shortest note available to composers. There were notes that were longer than the breve, which were called "longa" and "maxima". You can read more about how musical notation has changed over the centuries here.


Double Dots

A single dot to the right of a note head increases the length of the note by 50% (the note plus half of itself). 

So, a dotted minim = a minim + a crotchet:

dotted note


Double dots increase the value by 75% (the note plus three quarters of itself).

So a double dotted minim = minim + crotchet + quaver: 

double dotted note


Rests can also have dots and double dots added to them, of course.


In the grade 4 exam you might be asked about equivalents, for example:

How many quavers is a double dotted semibreve worth? 


First calculate how many quavers there are in a normal semibreve (8)

Then add on the number of quavers in half a semibreve (4) 

Then add on the number of quavers in a quarter of a semibreve (2).



The quick way to do this is simply to 

  1. halve the first number (= the number of the value you are counting in the undotted note)
  2. halve the second number
  3. add them all together


Here's a crazy question to show you as an example - how many semiquavers are there in a double dotted breve?

1 breve=32 semiquavers


There are 56 semiquavers in a double dotted breve!


Another common question in the grade 4 paper is to explain how dots and double dots affect notes. All you need to write is:

"A dotted note lasts 1.5 times longer than an undotted one" or "a dot increases a note's length by 50%".

"A double dotted note lasts 1.75 times longer than an undotted one" or "a double dot increases a note's length by 75%."



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