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8. Beaming Notes (US Version)

Grade One Music Theory - Lesson 8: Beaming Notes (UK Version)

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

 

Beaming

Notes which are smaller than a quarter note - eighth notes and sixteenth notes - have tails attached to their stems.

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"- they are beamed notes.

 

Making Beamed Notes

Notes with one tail (eighth notes and dotted eighth notes) have one beam. Sixteenth notes have two tails so they have two beams, which are drawn quite close together. Here are some examples of beamed eighth note notes.

Beamed eighth notes - music theory 


Beamed sixteenth notes - music theory

Eighth notes can be beamed to sixteenth notes like this:

Beamed eighth notes and sixteenth notes - music theory

We can also join dotted eighth notes to sixteenth notes with beams, like this:

Beamed dotted eighth note and sixteenth note

Notice that the lower sixteenth note beam is quite short. This is a cut-off beam.

Cut-off beams should be about as wide as the note-head. They can point in either direction, depending on which side of the eighth note they are on. Here's another example of beamed notes which have cut-off beams:

Cut off beams

 

Beaming and Beats

In the time signatures you need to know for Grade 1 Music Theory (2/4, 3/4 and 4/4), the beat is always represented by a quarter note time value.

(In other time signatures the beat could be an eighth note or half note. However, in this lesson we are assuming the beat is always a quarter note.)

In each bar, some notes are given more emphasis than others - this subtle accent is what gives music its feeling of pulse. Beats are categorised as follows:

  • Strong beat: this is the strongest accent in the bar and falls right at the beginning of the bar.
  • Weak beat: these are the other quarter note beats of the bar. 
  • Off beat: these are any notes which fall in between the strong and/or weak beats.

 

The rules for correct beaming depend on the time signature in use. You'll need to learn the rules for each time signature separately, as well as these general rules:

  • The eighth notes and sixteenth notes should be joined together to make the quarter note beat obvious. 
  • Beams never cross over the bar lines.
  • The first note of a beamed group must never fall on an off beat, unless it's preceded by a rest or a dotted note.

 

Beaming in 2/4 Time

In 2/4 time there are two quarter note beats per bar. There is one strong beat, which is the first beat of the bar. The second quarter note beat is the weak beat.

Notes are normally beamed together to make up one quarter note beat. Here are some examples.

2-4-beaming

If there are four eighth notes in a bar, they can all be beamed together.

2-4-four-quavers-beaming

 

Beaming in 3/4 Time

In 3/4 time there are three quarter notes per bar. There is one strong beat, which is the first beat of the bar, followed by two weak beats.

The eighth notes can be beamed right across two or three whole quarter note beats, but the first note of the group must fall on the beat, not on an off beat.

3-4-quavers-beaming

In the above bars, all are correct except the last one. In the last bar, the 4th eighth note falls on an off beat.

 

Groups with sixteenth notes are normally only beamed to make up one quarter note beat maximum.

Here are some examples:

3-4-beaming

 

Beaming in 4/4 Time

In 4/4 time there are four quarter note beats per bar.

The first beat of the bar is the strong beat. The second and fourth beats are the weak beats. But the third beat is a secondary strong beat

This means that the first beat of the bar has the strongest accent, the third beat has a slightly weaker accent, and the second and fourth beats receive no accent.

This is reflected in the beaming: you can beam together eighth notes which make up to two quarter notes' worth of beats, but only if they fall on beats 1-2 or 3-4. You cannot beam together eighth notes or sixteenth notes which cross from beats 2-3. 

4-4-quavers-beaming

Bar 1 is correct, because the first eighth note in each group falls on a strong beat.

Bar 2 is correct, because the first eighth note in the first group falls on a weak beat and the first of the second group on a stronger beat. This makes the secondary strong beat obvious.

Bar 3 is incorrect, because the 3rd eighth note in the group should have a stronger accent than the first eighth note. The importance of the third beat of the bar is hidden.

 

Groups which contain sixteenth notes should normally equal a maximum of one or two quarter notes.

Here are some examples.

4-4-beams

Notice that:

  • The first four notes in bar 1 are all beamed together, making a group worth a half note.
  • In bar 2, there is one unbeamed eighth note. It can't be beamed to the next group because that group needs to start on the third beat of the bar, to show the place of the secondary strong beat.
  • Bar 3 looks complicated, but it's not really! The first (strongest) beat is the first rest plus the beamed sixteenth note and eighth note. Together, they make up one quarter note's beat. The second (weak) beat is made up of three beamed sixteenth notes and a sixteenth note's silence. The third (secondary strong beat) begins on the dotted eighth note, and the final (weak) is the same as the second beat.
  • In bar 3, it would be better not to beam the notes into groups worth a half note, because it will make it much more difficult to see which of the notes falls on the 2nd or 4th beat.

 

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 vertical position on the stave if we need to, to make the music clearer.

Beaming and rests

The sixteenth rest has been moved downwards a little bit, so that it doesn't get mixed up with the beam lines.

 

Stem Direction - Beaming Two Notes

If you need to join two or more notes together, but some of them have stems which point up and others which point down, which direction do you choose for the beamed group? For example, let's say you had to beam together two Ds of different pitches. Should they both have upwards pointing stems, or downwards pointing?

Stems up or stems down in music theory notes 

To work out which way to draw your stems when beaming two or more 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 middle line than the top D is.

Use the direction of the note which is furthest from the middle line as your guide.


The bottom D has its stem pointing upwards, so that's the direction we should use with our beaming:

Beamed eighth notes, stems up in music theory

 

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:

Beamed stems point upward with octave Fs in music theory

so in this case the beamed notes have their stems the other way round.

 

 Angling Beams

Beams can be flat, angled up or angled down. 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 overall, the beam should be flat.

Sometimes you may need to make the stems on some notes extra long, to allow enough space for everything to be seen.

angling-beams

Bars 1-4 are correct.

In bar 4, the stems are extra long on the lower Es, to allow space for the high E.

In bar 5, the beams is flat but the music is rising - this is incorrect.

In bar 6, the music is falling, but the beam is angled upwards, this is incorrect.

In bar 7, the pitch of the first and last notes is the same, so the beam should be flat.

 

 

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