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Victoria Williams

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4. Time Names of Notes

Grade One Music Theory - Lesson 4: Time Names of Notes - from Semiquavers (16ths) to Semibreves (Whole Notes)

Suitable for:  ABRSM Grade 1   Trinity Grade 1   GCSE   AP Music Theory Beginners 

In this lesson the note names used in the UK and Australia are in black. USA note names are given in orange. You do NOT need to learn both systems - learn the names used in the country where you live.


Note Shapes

To show how long notes should be held for, we draw them with different shapes.

Most notes are made up of a note head and a stem (apart from semibreves (whole notes), which have no stem).


Crotchets (Quarter Notes)

The most basic and most common length of note is the crotchet (quarter note), which looks like this:

Crotchet with stem up or thisCrotchet with stem down


It’s a black note head on a basic stem, (or stick).

A crotchet (quarter note) usually represents one beat.

As musicians, we can decide for ourselves exactly how long a beat should be, but often a crotchet lasts about one second.

Here are 4 crotchet (quarter note) Ds.

Crotchets - music theory


Quavers (Eighth Notes)

Notes which are twice as fast as crotchets are called quavers (8th notes). They look like this:

Quaver with stem upor this Quaver with stem down


Notice that although the quaver (8th note) has a black note head like the crotchet, it also has a small tail on the right side of its stem.

Here are 8 quavers (8th notes), F sharps and Gs.

Quavers - music theory


(To find out why there is only one sharp symbol, read Lesson 3 – Accidentals.


Listen to the crotchets (quarter notes) and quavers (8th notes) together. The quavers (8th notes) here are joined together in groups called beams - this makes them easier to read. The rules about beaming are explained in Lesson 7 – Beaming.

Crotchets and quavers



Minims (Half Notes)

Minims (half notes) are twice as long as crotchets (quarter notes).

Minims (half notes) look like this:

Minim with stem upor this Minim with stem down


Notice that minims (half notes) look like crotchets (quarter notes), but their heads are white, not black.

Here are a minim (half note) B and  A, in the bass clef: 



Listen to the crotchets (quarter notes), quavers (8th notes) and minims (half notes) together:

Quavers, crotchets and minims


Semibreves (Whole Notes)

Semibreves (whole notesare twice as long as minims (half notes), or four times as long as crotchets (quarter notes). Semibreves (whole notes) look like this:

Semibreve - music theory


Here is a semibreve (whole note) D in the bass clef:



Listent to the crotchets (quarter notes), minims (half notes), quavers (8th notes) and semibreves (whole notes) together:


Quavers, crotchets, minims and semibreves


Semiquavers (16th Notes)

Semiquavers (16th notesare twice as fast as quavers (8th notes), or 4 times faster than crotchets (quarter notes). Four semiquavers (16th notes) take up the same amount of time as 1 crotchet (quarter note). So, a semiquaver (16th note) is equal to a quarter of a crotchet (quarter note). 

A semiquaver (16th note) looks like this:

Semiquaver with stem up or this Semiquaver with stem down


We can also join two or more semiquavers (16th notes) together, like this:

Beamed (joined) semiquavers - music theory

Semiquavers (16th notes) look like quavers (8th notes), but they have two tails where quavers (8th notes) have one.

Here are some semiquavers (16th notes) in action:



And here is the finished product - from semibreves (whole notes) to semiquavers (16th notes)!


Semiquavers, quavers, crotchets, minims and semibreves


Why are Semibreves called Semibreves?

There is another note, called a breve (double whole note), which is worth two semibreves (whole notes). Breves aren't used very much these days, so you don't need to know about them for your grade one music theory exam. A long time ago, breves and semibreves were quite short notes. Over time, they have become longer and longer, and so today we think of semibreves as very long notes, but it wasn't always the case!