Dr. Barbara Murphy
University of Tennessee
School of Music
NOTES, RHYTHM, AND METER
Notes represent a duration or length of a sound. Notes consist of the head the stem
and the flag or beam.
The head of the note should be written as an oval (not a round circle) and should be
centered on the line or space of the staff that represents the note.
Stems are notated on the right side of the note head and are ascending if the note head
is on the 3rd line of the staff or below that line.
Stems are notated on the left side of the note head and are descending if the note is on
the 3rd line of the staff or above that line.
Stems should be about 1 octave in length and should be straight up and down (not
Flags are notated to the right of the stem whether the stem is on the right or left side
of the note head.
Notes should be beamed together to show the beat. Beams should therefore not cross
Beams should be straight lines, not curves. Beams may be slanted ascending or
descending according to the contour of the notes.
Beaming notes together may result in shortened or elongated stems on some notes.
If beaming eighth notes and sixteenth notes together, sixteenth note beams should
always go inside the beginning and ending stems.
Notes can have various durations and various names:
British (older version)
These notes look like the following:
In the above list, each note duration is one-half the duration of the preceding note
duration. Thus, one double-whole note = 2 whole notes, 1 whole note = 2 half
notes, 1 half note = 2 quarter notes, etc.
Rests represent durations of silence instead of sound. Rests can have various
durations as well.
Dots alter the duration of a note by adding half the value of the note onto the note
(e.g., a dotted half note = the duration of a half note + a quarter note). A second
dot adds half the value of the first dot (e.g., a double dotted half = the duration of
a half note + a quarter note + an eighth note).
Ties extend the length or duration of a note by holding the note for the value of the
two notes that are connected by the tie without a break or breath.
duplet -- 2 notes occupying the time normally taken by 3 notes. Duplets occur in
compound time meters.
triplet -- 3 notes occupying the time normally taken by 2 notes. Triplets only occur in
simple time meters.
syncopation -- the accenting (by length or emphasis) of a normally unaccented beat
or portion of the beat.
RHYTHM AND METER:
Rhythm is a pattern of durations.
Some music is purely rhythmic such as percussion pieces, some African music, rap
Rhythm is divided into beats -- a span of time that recurs regularly. Beats can be
both strong (S) or accented (emphasized), and weak (W) or unemphasized.
bar lines -- vertical lines drawn in the staff -- are used to separate music into
measured divisions of recurring patterns of strong and weak beats.
A meter is a pattern of stress/ weak and strong beats.
Types of meter
duple - groups of 2 beats (strong-weak)
triple - groups of 3 beats (strong-weak-weak)
quadruple - groups of 4 beats (strong-weak-less strong - weak)
quintuple - groups of 5 beats (3+2 or 2+3)
Divisions of beats
In simple time, each beat divides normally into 2 parts.
In compound time, each beat divides normally into 3 parts.
Time classifications -- examples are:
duple-simple = groups of 2 beats in which each beat normally divides into 2
triple-compound = groups of 3 beats in which each beat normally divides into 3
a designation of the time classification using Arabic numbers.
A time signature looks like a fraction, having a top and a bottom number, each
designating something different.
First, the top number indicates whether the meter is simple or compound time.
It is compound time if the top number is a multiple of 3 (e.g., 6,9,12,15); it
is simple time if the top number is 3 or a non-multiple of 3.
If the meter is simple time, the top number indicates the number of beats in
the measure. (top number = 3; number of beats is 3)
If the meter is compound time (the top number is a 6, 9, 12, or 15), the top
number indicates the number of divisions of the beats. Therefore, the
number of beats is the top number divided by 3. (top number = 6; number
of beats is 6 / 3 = 2)
If the meter is simple time, the bottom number is the unit of beat (4 = quarter,
2 = half).
If the meter is compound time, the bottom number indicates the division of the
beat; add 3 of the indicated value to get the unit of beat (4 = quarter +
quarter + quarter = dotted half)
Common time (C)
from Philippe de Vitry's (1291-1361) Ars Nova
C represents imperfect time (2 beats) with imperfect division of the beat (into 2);
now represents 4/4 time
Cut time (C| ) - represents cutting common time (4/4) in half resulting in 2/2 time (2
beats in ms and half note gets the beat)
Terms that express tempo -At first, the only way for the composer to indicate speed of the composition to the
performer was to indicate a relative speed, such as:
andante - walking tempo
allegro - fast
lento - slow
vivo - very fast
presto - very fast
But these terms are very subjective.
metronome indication -- a more precise method of conveying the speed of music.
e.g., MM= 120
M.M. - Maezel's metronome (the man who invented it).
The number indicates number of beats per minute.