Reading Music

close menu


Beats and Measures

Time Signature

Note Value

Dotted Notes and the Tie


Values Shorter Than a Beat

Eighth and Sixteenth Notes

Eighth-Note and Sixteenth-Note Rests


Beat Unit

Simple and Compound Meters

Reading Musical Notes

An Example


Key Signatures

Keyboard Notes

Other Tutorials:




Harmonic Functions

Musical Forms

Related Exercises:

Rhythmic Dictation

Clef Reading

Time Signature

Key Signature Construction

Key Signature Identification

Note Value

Once we understand the concept of measure and beats, we can start reading music.

The duration of a sound is indicated using several symbols. Let’s start by getting to know the symbols with durations of one, two and four beats:

Name (USA) Name (England) Duration Symbol
Whole Note Semibreve 4 beats
Half Note Minim 2 beats
Quarter Note Crotchet 1 beat

Note the relationship of values between the different symbols:

Each whole note (semibreve):
is divided into two half notes (minim).
And each half note (minim)
is divided into two quarter notes (crotchet)
Thus, each symbol will have half the
value of the preceding shape.

Let’s see a musical example using these symbols. The vertical lines (or bar lines) separate and group the notes into measures in order to facilitate reading (we can see three measures in this particular example). You can hear a percussive sound for each beat, and a clarinet sound playing the written notes. Note how a half note will take the duration of two percussive sounds (two beats), the quarter note will take just one beat, and the whole note will take four beats:

Translated by Dan Román, English version revised by Sue Talley

© 2011 J. Rodríguez Alvira

Are you a member of

Write to us!


Music theory questions? Visit our Google+ Community and we will try to answer. Google Communities

Tweet Follow @teoriaEng