Rhythm is a fundamental part of music, and it’s fairly straightforward once you get used to the time values of the various notes. So here’s a breakdown of how time values of notes work and their relationship with each other.
I’ve only going to mention five types of notes here, and I’m going to only use the English names. This is because I think the American system can be slightly confusing when describing rhythm in terms of beats, especially when you’re new to rhythm. For example an American eighth note (quaver) is half a beat long, while a quarter note (crotchet) lasts a full beat. There are far too many fractions!
As you can see below, notes tell you how many beats to hold a sound for, while the rest symbol tells you how many beats to be silent. The time value of a note is relative rather than specific. So while a crotchet lasts for one beat, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it lasts for one second. The tempo tells you how long a beat lasts, while the design of the note shows its value in beats. This will be explained in more detail in the time signature and tempo pages, so if you don’t completely understand it yet, don’t panic!
Here’s an illustration of the different types of notes and how they relate to each other:
You will notice that the rest symbol for semibreves and minims is very similar, and it’s really easy to confuse the two. But if you remember that the semibreve rest is suspended while the minim rest is mounted, it might make things easier.
In this illustration, the quavers and semiquavers are beamed together. This means that two or more notes are joined together, usually in groups of two or four. These notes can also be written separately or in groups of same time values, as shown in Table 1 below, or in mixed groups, which will be discussed further on the note groupings page.
There are rules about when a note should and shouldn’t be beamed, but you need to understand time signatures first. So these rules will be explained on the note groupings page.
To practice your rhythm listening skills, go to the rhythm transcription page.
Csaky, T. et al. eds., 2006. GCSE Music, Newcastle upon Tyne: Coordination Group Publications Ltd.
Ng, Y.Y., 2012. Music Theory for Young Musicians: Grade 1 2nd ed., Selangor: Poco studio.
Taylor, E., 1989. The AB Guide to Music Theory: Part 1 9th ed., London: Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music Ltd.
Taylor, E., 2008. Music Theory in Practice: Grade 1, Oxford: Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music Ltd.