Note value


Audio: note value (0:08)

Note value
Figure: note value
Table: note value

note value plays notes with different values on a vibraphone and the rhythm is identical to time signature. The note value table shows the value, in beats, of five commonly used notes, followed by their American and British names. All five notes appear in the note value figure, the score. Reading from left to right:

  • Four beamed sixteenth-notes.
  • A triplet of three beamed eighth-notes.
  • Four beamed eighth-notes.
  • Two quarter-notes.
  • A tied half-note.
  • A dotted half-note.
  • A single whole-note.

Note value is a shorthand term for the duration of a note.

The shape of a note in staff notation provides precise information about its duration. This information is absent in percussion notation. Duration in pitched rhythm is important because a note is either on, being played or sung, or off, silent. It is not important in unpitched rhythm, a drum or cymbal can vibrate as long as necessary.

The shape of a note provides the following information about its value:

  • The notehead is an oval shape. Its colour denotes the value of the note. A whole note and a half note have white ovals, all the other notes have black ovals.
  • The stem is a vertical line connected to the notehead. It denotes the voice or part that sings or plays the note. Every note has a stem except for the whole note.
  • The flag is an oblique line attached to the end of the stem of a single note. It determines the precise value of that note. A flag is only attached to a note with a duration less than that of a crotchet. There is no flagged note in the note value score.
  • A beam is a horizontal or diagonal line attached to a group of noteheads. It means that the group of notes are rhythmically connected. A beam is only used to connect notes with a duration less than that of a crotchet.
  • Tuplet is a generic term for a subdivision of a beat. A tuplet is a number written above or below a group of beamed notes. The value, 3, denotes a triplet, a subdivision into three beats.
  • A dot after a note extends its duration by 50 per cent.
  • A tie is a curved line connecting the noteheads of two notes that span a bar. It denotes that the two notes are played or sung as a single note.
  • A rest denotes silence (not shown in the note value score).

Rhythm is built into melody and harmony. This point is worth repeating in flashing neon lights. Writing melody and writing harmony are processes of writing melody-with-rhythm and harmony-with-rhythm. You can write beats, convert beats to notes, and, hey presto, instant melody and harmony.