Quarter & Eighth notes
Join Rockschool’s Charlie Griffiths as he continues his 14-part series designed to up your musical game, get you reading music and potentially earning more! Reading Music Part 6
Also known as ‘crotchets’, quarter-notes are shown as a black dot with a single vertical stem attached to the left or right, in the same configuration as the letters p and d. The time signature shown at the beginning of the stave has two numbers, which are usually 4/4. This tells you that each bar is made up of ‘four quarter-notes’. These four quarter notes are best regarded as an even, repeating pulse of a song that you naturally tap your foot along to. This is sometimes called the backbeat and is counted: ‘1 2 3 4’. You sometimes hear musicians say “four to the bar” and this describes quarter notes perfectly.
Most music is a lot more interesting and complicated than repeating quarter-notes, so we can subdivide those beats into further, smaller notes, which we can combine to write down any rhythm. By slicing each quarternote into two, we can create eight eighthnotes. Eighth-notes take up exactly half the time as quarter-notes and can be counted ‘1& 2 & 3 & 4 &’. Eighth-notes are also called quavers. The English tend to say crochet and quaver, while Americans prefer quarter and eighth note - the meanings are the same.
A single eighth-note looks much like a quarter-note, except for a curly flag attached to the end of the stem. When two, three or four eighth-notes are next to each other, they are beamed together with a horizontal line. When eighth eighth-notes are played in a row, they are typically grouped into four and four.
Quarter-note rests are shown as vertical squiggles and eighth-notes rests look like a small number 7. Rests take up exactly the same time as notes, so they are counted in exactly the same way. The only difference is the absence of any sound. This shouldn’t mean that you do nothing however; ‘playing’ the rests is just as important a skill as playing the notes, as the tendency with inexperienced readers is to rush through the rests.
Notes can be ‘tied’ together using a horizontal curved line. The result is that both notes are ‘glued’ together to make a single,
Eighth-notes take up exactly half the time as quarter-notes and can be counted ‘1& 2 & 3 & 4 &’.
longer note. This usually happens in two places; firstly to cross the bar-line, and secondly to cross the centre of the bar. It is considered bad practice to place notes through the centre line of a bar as it is much more digestible when presented as two distinct halves, as if there is an imaginary bar-line between beats 2 and 3.
Dots are another way of extending the value of a note. Placing a small dot after the note increases the value by an additional 50%. A dotted quarter-note is therefore the same as a quarter-note, plus an eighth-note, or a grand total of three eight-notes.
The following rhythmic examples use a combination of quarter-notes, eighth-notes, rests, ties and dots. The exercises are all played on the note C, which will sound somewhat monotonous; this is deliberate, as it will enable you to concentrate fully on the rhythmic information without having to worry about changing notes; we’ll combine these skills in a future issue. Use a metronome or a drum machine to ensure that the examples are played at a consistent tempo and feel free to increase or decrease the suggested 60 bpm to suit your level.
Quarter and eighth notes are the basis of most simple music