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4. Time Names of Notes (US)

Grade One Music Theory - Lesson 4: Times Names of Notes - from Sixteenths to Whole notes

Click here to see this page with the note names in British English


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 whole notes, which have no stem).


Quarter notes

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

Quarter note with stem up or thisQuarter note with stem down


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

A quarter note usually represents one beat.

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

Here are 4 quarter note Ds.

Quarter notes - music theory


Eighth notes

Notes which are twice as fast as quarter notes are called eighth notes. They look like this:

Eighth note with stem upor this Eighth note with stem down


Notice that although the eighth note has a black note head like the quarter note, it also has a small tail on the right side of its stem.

Here are 8 eighth notes, F sharps and Gs.

Eighth notes - music theory


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


Listen to the quarter notes and eighth notes together. The eighth 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.

Quarter notes and eighth notes



Half notes

Half notes are twice as long as quarter notes.

Half notes look like this:

Half note with stem upor this Half note with stem down


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

Here is a half note B and a half note A, in the bass clef: 

Half notes


Listen to the quarter notes, eighth notes and half notes together:

Eighth notes, quarter notes and half notes


Whole notes

Whole notes are twice as long as half notes, or four times as long as quarter notes. Whole notes look like this:

Whole note - music theory


Here is a whole note D in the bass clef:

Whole note


Listent to the quarter notes, half notes, eighth notes and whole notes together:


Eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes and whole notes



Sixteenths are twice as fast as eighth notes, or 4 times faster than quarter notes. Four sixteenths take up the same amount of time as 1 quarter note. So, a sixteenth is equal to a fourth of a quarter note. 

A sixteenth looks like this:

Sixteenth with stem up or this Sixteenth with stem down


We can also join two or more sixteenths together, like this:

Beamed (joined) sixteenths - music theory

Sixteenths look like eighth notes, but they have two tails where eighth notes have one.

Here are some sixteenths in action:



And here is the finished product - from whole notes to sixteenths!


Sixteenths, eighth notes, quarter notes, half notes and whole notes



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