Musical notes and note values

How to recognize different durations of musical notes?

Musical Notes

A musical note is a sign that is used in musical notation to represent the relative duration and pitch of a musical sound. Also, we use this term to refer a sound. If we think music as a language, musical notes are the letters of the alphabet. They are the building blocks of music.Notes have two qualities: Pitch and note value. Pitch is the specific frequency of a musical note. In other words, it means how high or low a note is. In this article, I’ll focus on how to recognize different note values.

Shape of Musical Notes

There are three components of musical note symbols: Note head, stem, and flag.

Shape of a musical note
Shape of a musical note

Note head

The note head is the round part of every note. Every note has it.


The stem is the vertical line attached to the note head. Only whole notes don’t have this component. All other notes have it.


The flag is the little, curved line that comes off top or bottom of the note steam. Eighth (quaver) notes and all shorter notes have flags. But the longer notes don’t have it.

Note Values

The value of musical notes indicates the relative duration of a musical note. We look at the shape of a note to tell its value.

Whole Note (Semibreve)

A whole note

Whole note (Semibreve) lasts four beats. Its symbol is an open note head. In 4/4 time, a whole note lasts an entire measure. So we can place maximum one whole note per measure.

Half Note (Minim)

A half note

Half note (Minim) lasts two beats. Its symbol is an open note head with a stem. In 4/4 time, a half note lasts half of a measure. So we can place two half notes per measure.

Quarter Note (Crotchet)

A quarter note

Quarter note (Crotchet) lasts one beat. Its symbol is a close note head with a steam. In 4/4 time, a quarter note lasts a quarter of a measure. This is why we can place maximum four quarter notes per measure.

Eighth Note (Quaver)

An eighth note

An eighth note (Quaver) lasts half a beat. Its symbol is a close note head with a steam and a flag. In 4/4 time, we can place maximum eight of them per measure.

Sixteenth Note (Semiquaver)

A sixteenth note

It lasts a quarter of a beat. Its symbol is a close note head with a steam and double flags. In 4/4 time, we can place maximum sixteen of them per measure. Now, you may notice that after eighth note we use more flags to represent shorter notes. An eighth note has one, sixteenth note has two, thirty-second note has three and so on. Although there are longer notes than a whole note (such as double whole note (breve) which lasts eighth beats) and shorter notes than a sixteenth note (such as thirty-second note, sixty-fourth note etc) most common note values are these.

Note Values Tree

Once you understand the logic behind note values you can read and play every other note. As you may notice, a whole note lasts two times longer than a half note. A half note lasts two times longer than a quarter note. A quarter note lasts two times longer than an eighth note. An eighth note lasts two times longer than a sixteenth note. So when you come across a thirty-second note, you can easily figure out that it will last half of a sixteenth note. It’s simple math. The same logic applies to all other note values. We can represent this logic in a tree-like chart called note values tree.

Note values tree

In this tree, you can see the value of a whole note equals to two half notes, or four quarter notes, or eight eighth notes, or sixteen sixteenth notes.


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