Rhythm: Quarter Notes, Eighth Notes, Rests & Other Basic Rhythms

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  • 0:56 Whole Notes and Whole Rests
  • 2:24 Half Notes and Half Rests
  • 3:37 Quarter Notes and…
  • 5:27 Flags and Beams
  • 6:18 Eighth Notes and Eighth Rests
  • 7:52 Sixteenth Notes and…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Liz Diamond-Manlusoc

Liz has taught music for K-12 and beyond. She holds a master's degree in Education Media and Design Technology.

Rhythm is an imperative part of music. Knowing the basic rhythms such as quarter notes, eighth notes, and rests will give you a deeper understanding of the music you hear. Learn about these notes and other basic rhythms in this lesson!

Rhythm and Pacing/Pulse

Say, have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a musician? How about a boxer? At first glance, these two lads seem to have nothing in common. Believe it or not, there are many similarities between musicians and boxers. Both use their hands, practice many hours a week, and require impeccable timing and unbeatable rhythmic combinations. Let's take a look at the basics of their practice routines through rhythm.

Whole Notes and Whole Rests

Good boxers and musicians always get in pace before starting. Once the musician and boxer have found their pace, a proper warm up can take place. Each might start with breathing or playing four full counts like a whole note. The whole note is typically defined as having four full counts or lasting one whole measure. This is true in many situations, and because other notes are named according to their division of the whole note, we'll make the assumption for this lesson that the whole note is equal to four beats. Let's warm up with a whole note, boys! The whole note looks like an oval with a circle cut out of the center, kind of like an oblong doughnut.

The musician and the boxer can't spend all of their time practicing, though. Sometimes they also need a little rest. In music, a rest is a note that is silent. Rests are easy to tell apart visually from other rhythms because they are either rectangular or made of lines. The whole rest is silent and lasts one whole measure. For our case, we'll assume this is four beats. Take a rest boys, a whole rest!

Half Notes and Half Rests

OK, boys, let's pick up the pace a bit. You can see that our musician and our boxer are now warming up at a rhythm that is half the length of the whole note. This is called a half note. The half note is usually defined as having a value of two beats. If we look carefully at the half note, we can see that it looks different from the whole note. This part is called the note head, and this part is called the stem. It's important to observe that, on the half note, the center of the note head is empty. The stem can point up or down, depending where it is on the staff.

The half note is made of an empty note head and a stem
Half Note

We can have our boys vary the rhythm by adding in a half rest every now and then. The half rest is silent and lasts for two beats. It looks very much like the whole rest but is on top of the line instead of underneath. Let's see the half rest in action.

Quarter Notes and Quarter Rests

Our musician and boxer can continue to play smaller rhythms. The next smallest increment is called a quarter note. They are called quarter notes because they are 1/4 the length of a whole note. Quarter notes are often equal to one beat each. So in a case like this, they match the pulse. It's important to note that quarter notes do not always match the pace. Unlike half notes, quarter notes have a filled in note head. In fact, they kind of look like our drummer's and boxer's legs!

The silent version of the quarter note is the quarter rest, which is equal to one beat of silence or pause. The quarter rest looks like this.

Quarter rests as part of a rhythm
Quarter Rest

If we change the previous rhythm to have a quarter rest on the last beat, we get this. The beat is still there - it's just silent. Rests may seem unnecessary, but they are an important part of keeping the rhythm interesting and less predictable, which is something important for both boxers and musicians. If we really want to mix it up, we can put the rests in different places. Go boys, go!

Flags and Beams

So far, our rhythms have been pretty tame. This can be boring for the musician and makes it difficult for the boxer to win. Let's incorporate some rhythms that are smaller. Notes smaller than quarter notes have flags or beams. Beamed notes are just two or more flagged notes next to each other, like if you tied their flags at the top or bottom. Flags and beams serve the same purpose. For each additional flag or beam, the value of the note is cut smaller by half. The more flags or beams a note has, the shorter its length is. So, a note with many flags or many beams is quite short - maybe even too short for our guys!

Eighth Notes and Eighth Rests

The largest type of note with a flag or beam is the eighth note. Eighth notes are equal to 1/8 the length of a whole note. This means that they often have a quicker feel than the pulse and sound twice as fast as quarter notes. Eighth notes often come in a pair, like this, which has a beam across the top. If we assume that the whole note is worth four beats, then each pair of eighth notes is worth one beat. This means that individually, each half of the pair is worth half a beat.

A beam connects two eighth notes
Eighth Notes

Let's see these eighth notes in action! Boy, are eighth notes exciting! Let's see them combined with quarter notes and quarter rests. You're sure to get a knock out with this one! The eighth rest is the silent equivalent of the eighth note. If we add in some eighth rests, we get some really snazzy rhythms!

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