Note value

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Figure 1: Standard note values: whole, half, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second, and sixty-fourth notes

The note value of a note is in the music information on their tone duration relative to other notes. The derivation of the absolute duration of a note can only be made in connection with a tempo and a specified time signature , since the note values ​​themselves only show the relationship between the note lengths. The different values ​​are indicated in the music notation by different note symbols.


The most common note values, whole, half, quarter, right eighth, sixteenth, thirty-second notes on the left; the short ones first with flags, then combined into groups with bars, but the same in meaning.

The most common note values ​​in Western music notation can be seen on the graphic opposite.

The notes are made up of the elements head (empty or black / filled), neck (with or without) and flag on the neck (with or without).

In the first column we see:

  • the whole note : empty note head without note stem;
  • the half note : empty note head with note stem;
  • the quarter note : filled note head with stem.

The arrangement of the notes one below the other shows the relationship between their tone durations : a whole note is the same length as two half notes, and a half note can be divided into two quarter notes. Mathematically speaking, fractions can be used here, whereby the denominators are limited to powers of two (whole, half, quarter, eighth etc.). However, this does not apply to triplets and other subdivisions (see below).

The second column shows the further halving of the values, which result from adding another flag or bar:

  • the eighth note : black head with a flag or bar on the stem;
  • the sixteenth note: black head with two flags or bars on the stem;
  • the thirty-second note: black head with three flags or bars on the stem.

If several notes follow one another with flags, they can be linked with bars instead of each with a flag. This notation is often used to indicate the musical or rhythmic grouping of the tones, e.g. B. phrasing or legato . Individual eighths with flags accordingly indicate accented notes or staccato .

Very small note values ​​are harder to read due to the increasing number of bars or flags, but in principle this system can be continued indefinitely. Sometimes the sixty-fourth note is encountered, but the one hundred and twenty -eighth note is much rarer . A further subdivision is not useful due to the playability limits.

Different spellings of the double whole note

The double whole (or brevis ), which can be found mainly in the area of early music (Middle Ages and Renaissance), is less common . In most cases, eight beats beyond the bar line are notated with two whole notes connected by a tie . The brevis rarely occurs in later and also in today's music, as the very extensive time signatures that were predominant at the time, such as 4/2 or 3/2, are hardly used today and thus a measure usually cannot comprise two whole. The picture shows the three different spellings.

In addition to the Brevis, there are also the Maxima (also Longa duplex ), which is the note value with the longest time, followed by the Longa . These extremely extended note values ​​can also be found almost exclusively in early music.


The old system for the designation of long breaks.
Figure 4: The old system for naming long breaks.
Figure 5: Note and corresponding rest values: whole rest, half rest, quarter rest, etc.

Analogous to the note values, there are the corresponding rest values, each of the same length: full rest, half rest, quarter rest, etc. Figure 5 shows the different rests under the corresponding (equally long) notes. The entire pause “hangs” on the fourth system line (from the bottom), while half of the pause is on the third line. The double pause connects these two lines and is significantly narrower than the full and half pause.


Dotted quarter note

If a point is added after a note or pause value, the value is increased by half , i.e. by the length of the next lower note value; it is thus as long as three notes of the next lower note value. Examples: A dotted half note lasts as long as a half note and a quarter note, three quarter notes; a dotted quarter note as long as a quarter note and an eighth note, equal to three eighth notes. The name of the note is then preceded by the adjective dotted . A half (note) with a point is therefore a dotted half note , in parlance also a three-quarter note .

Double dotting lengthens the grade by half and a quarter; a double-dotted half note is therefore as long as a half note, a quarter note and an eighth note in a row.



Half triole
Quarter triplet
Eighth triplet
Examples of irregularly spaced triplets
Triplet feeling vs. Dotting

A triols (of lat. Tri- "triple") refers to a value (, d. H. Ternary instead of the normal binary) in three thirds divided (not to be confused with a group , where three regular values to a higher-level unit summarized be). In the case of unbalanced note values, triplets are indicated by a bow or a bracket above the note group with a small 3 ; in the case of beamed values, the brackets can only be omitted if the bar graphically extends over all three notes, but must be set if the bar (during pauses) is interrupted. The brackets and the 3 can even be omitted, where the triolisation is not used accidentally (temporarily) but modally (permanent mode). From the context it can be seen that the counting time is consistently divided into three instead of two values. A 44 time can be drawn, where the beat time, the quarter, should be divided into three sub-values ​​- an explicit drawing as 128 is not necessary here (see e.g. Piano Sonata No. 14 (Beethoven) ). In contrast, where there is a need to vary between the triplet and hemiole sub-level, either the accidental triplet notation is to be used (normal eighth is the rule), or a corresponding triplet preliminary drawing, where the hemiole (also called duole ) must be accidentally marked (small 2 above the bar / Bracket).


  • Eighth note triplet : A triolisierte eighth note symbolizes a third of a regular quarter note value.
  • Quarter triplet: A tripletized quarter note symbolizes a third of a regular half-note value.
  • Half triole : A tripletized half note symbolizes a third of a regular whole note value.

So a triolized with a regular (= binary ). The overall duration must be broken down into the smallest common multiple (2 × 3 = 6): The regular eighth note takes three sixths, a triplet eighth notes two sixths of a quarter note.

It goes without saying that triplets can again be rhythmized internally through compound durations or pauses.

In blues , jazz and rock music, there is the phenomenon known as triplet feeling or shuffle , that subdivisions notated as eighth notes are treated like triplets when playing. In fact, this is about a felt long-short that can practically continuously vary between two extremes, but only from a certain absolute reference value, namely where one can no longer perceive the smallest occurring duration as a count. So on this microrhythmic level - depending on the tempo - 3: 1, 4: 1, 5: 1, ('tightened') ..., but z. B. also 2: 1, 3: 2, 4: 3, ... ('mitigated'), as well as continuous oscillation between these, are still understood as 'shuffle'. It is crucial that the elongation is the metric center of gravity, i.e. the 'beginning' (=  reference point in perception ). the modal-rhythmic long-short form is understood.

However, this is not something new in the music of the 20th century. In the high and late baroque periods one often finds sections that have to be performed with triplets, although these are not notated as such. This is mostly done as an adjustment when one voice contains triplets but the other does not, or when a line always has triplets with the other dotted eighth and sixteenth notes. In the French and French influenced baroque music, longer passages that only consist of eighth notes are usually performed in triplets (as triplet quarters + triplet eighth), possibly also as chains of dotted eighth notes + sixteenth notes (see notes inégales ).

Eighth note as a triplet
Dotted eighth notes as triplets
Eighth note chain as Notes inégales (triplet)
Eighth note chain as Notes inégales (dotted eighth notes + sixteenth notes)

Other divisions

One speaks of a duole when two notes of the same length are played for three beats in an odd time signature . The duole must not be confused with a hemiole , as this only shifts the accentuation, but does not change the duration of the beat.

One speaks of a fourth if instead of (mostly) three beats one plays four beats in the same time, of a quintole with five beats in the time of (mostly) four. This also applies analogously to sextoles (six beats), septoles (seven beats) and octoles (eight beats).

Example of a quarter sextole

In the case of a 44 measure, each measure is as long as four quarter notes. To illustrate this using the example of singing: In the simplest case, four syllables (one syllable per tone) are sung, for example “apple strudel”, with all four tones lasting the same length. A sextole is used when not four but six tones / syllables with the same duration are to be accommodated within such a measure, for example "life insurance":

44- stroke 1 2 3 4th
Four quarters Ap- fur- stru- del
Quarter sextole Le- ben- ver si- che- tion


Figure 2: Example of the division of the time axis into twelve equal sections for a fourth with four beats on three beats to be divided, so that all beats of the beats to be divided and the divided beats come exactly at one beat between the sections. The base counts on the twelve-scale are 1, 5, and 9, and the quarters are 1, 4, 7, and 10.

If beats are to be divided into equal parts, the least common multiple of the two integers and can be used in order to achieve an even division on the time axis that has a corresponding beat for all beats that occur.

The basic counting times with beats are then on the small scale with beats:

, With

The counting times of the division with beats result from the following beats on the small scale with beats:

, With


When a Quartole with beats to be distributed beats must the entire period in , portions divided (see Figure 2). The beats on the small scale for the basic counting times are then 1, 5 and 9, and those for the division are then 1, 4, 7 and 10.


Accidental divisions are identified by a number placed in the middle above the bar (or a bracket for unbalanced notes), which indicates the number of divisions of the main denomination. In the case of modal (pre-marked) division, this identification can be omitted. In the case of accidental spelling, it is irrelevant how often the main value has to be subdivided. B. with an 11-fold subdivision of a quarter note 11 barred eighth values ​​are noted. In principle, there is no limit to the divisibility.

Divisions are identified by square brackets on the note group on which the number of beats of the division is indicated ( ). In conventional musical notation, however, the performing musician has to deduce from the context which beat number ( ) has to be replaced. Attempts to note these down, for example by using a colon notation like ( i.e. Y instead of X beats), have not been able to prevail.

See also


  • Wieland Ziegenrücker: General music theory with questions and tasks for self-control. German Publishing House for Music, Leipzig 1977; Paperback edition: Wilhelm Goldmann Verlag, and Musikverlag B. Schott's Sons, Mainz 1979, ISBN 3-442-33003-3 , pp. 16 and 32–48, especially pp. 32–39 ( the note values ​​and pause marks ).