Lesson 2: Note Names and Values

Lesson 2: Note Names and Values

In my last blog post, I discussed the layout of the piano keyboard and the music alphabet. For this second lesson, we’ll be taking a look at some of the primary musical note names and their values.
Notes are used to visually represent the pitches you play on your instrument. A musical note has up to three parts: head, stem, and flag. The head is the circular part of the note, and it can be either filled in or empty; the stem is the line that goes either up or down from the head; and the flag is an extra curved line attached to the stem. The parts of the note determine the note’s name. Let’s look at some of the main note values:
There are different names for notes depending on what country you’re in. The United States uses proportion-based words like whole, half, and quarter, which are the English translations of German note names. The United Kingdom instead uses traditional medieval note names, which I’ve listed after the US ones for each note above. Because the US names are generally easier to remember, they are being used more frequently throughout the UK as well. In this blog, I will be using the US note names.
As more parts are added to notes, the values get smaller, so the whole note is the largest of the four listed and the eighth note is the smallest. Each smaller note is the result of cutting the larger note that comes before it in half. You could also say that each larger note is the result of doubling the smaller note that comes after it. So, two half notes make a whole note, two quarter notes make a half note, and two eighth notes make a quarter note. This diagram shows the hierarchy of notes:
There are a few other note values that are not listed in this post, as they are a bit more complex: one that is larger than the whole note and three that are smaller than the eighth note. I’ll be covering these notes in my next post. For now, though, check out the four notes explained here and see if you can familiarize yourself with their order from large to small. Try drawing a few of each note to get accustomed to note heads, stems, and flags!
Look out for the next lesson on more note values and how to notate them, and don’t forget to subscribe to my mailing list for musical updates!