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Music Notes: How Pitch & Duration Are Determined

Aug 17, 2007
Notes are the musical notation representing a fixed pitch. While the word strictly refers to the physical notation of a pitch, it's more commonly used to refer to both the pitch and the notation.

Notes are named after the first seven letters in the alphabet -- A, B, C, D, E, F, and G -- and keep the same letter value as they are repeated up or down the keyboard or other musical instrument.

But since there are twelve notes in a diatonic scale, the seven notes can be altered. To get the extra five notes,we sharp notes(raise by a half-step) and flat notes (lower by a half-step); the sharped and flatted notes are the black keys on a piano. All notes can be altered this way, but a C flat is enharmonic with B, a white key, and B sharp is enharmonic with C -- a white key.Likewise E sharp is enharmonic with F -- also a white key, and of course F flat is enharmonic with E, a white key.

The types of notes and their values are based on the amount of time they take up in a song and are named in a hierarchy of values:

Breve

Minim

Crochet

Quaver

Demi-quaver

Demi-semi-quaver

Hemi-demi-semi-quaver

Whole notes (or breve notes) are four beats long (in common time, also known as 4/4 time), which is equal to one measure in 4/4 time. They are represented by a hollow, oval note with no stem.

Half notes (or minim notes) are half of a whole note, or two beats. They are written as a hollow note with a stem that points up when placed below the middle of the staff, up when placed above it.

Quarter notes (or crochet notes) represent a quarter of a whole note, or one beat in 4/4 time. They are the most recognizable note: a solid black note with a stem.

Eighth notes (or quaver notes) are one-eighth of a whole note and are written exactly like a quarter note, but with a flag attached to the stem. When more than one eighth note is placed side by side, a solid beam connects the adjacent notes.

Sixteenth notes (or demi-quaver notes) are one-sixteenth of a whole note and represented as an eighth note with two flags or two solid beams.

Thirty-second (demi-semi-quaver) and sixty-fourth notes (hemi-demi-semi-quaver) represent the section of a whole note indicated by their names; they are drawn as eighth or sixteenth notes with an additional flags.

It's also important to mention that the value of a note can be changed by adding a dot. Dotted notes represent the value of the original note, plus one half. For instance, dotted half notes are held for three beats, dotted quarter notes for a beat and one half, and so on.

In addition to musical notes, there are also musical rests which are signs of silence. They have the same time values as their corresponding notes, and when interspersed with notes of varying time values create different kinds of rhythms.

All together, they spell music.
About the Author
A series or free lessons from Duane on the various aspects of chords & music theory is available: "Piano Chords & Sizzling Chord Progressions!"
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