Musical Note Symbols

What are Musical Notes?

In writing, letters make up the words that make up the sentence, which in turn blend into paragraphs and ultimately stories. In music the notes are the words that blend into measures and ultimately into songs. Musical notes date back to the early 900s when monks would write dots above the words to designate relative changes in pitch. Over time these dots have been transformed into the musical notes with which we are currently familiar. These musical notes are placed on the bar staff to indicate the pitch that should be sung or played dependent upon the location, key signature, and clef. Notes can be added above or below the staff as well using ledger lines.

Musical notes are used to not only dictate what pitch a note is should be played or sung but also the length of time that sound should be made. Each type of musical note has a different unit of time associated with it. The actual length of that time is dependent on another symbol, the time signature. In common time, a quarter note gets a single beat. How fast the beat is played depends on the tempo.

Musical notes are counted in whole, half, quarter, eight, sixteenth, thirty-second, sixty-fourth, hundred twenty-eighth, and two hundred fifty-sixth notes. Each note is approximately half as long as the one before it. A whole note lasts for a whole measure, half is half that and so forth. The number of beats each one gets is, of course, dependent on the time signature.




Each musical note looks unique as well. A whole note is an empty circle drawn on the line or space, depending on the pitch of the note. A half note is also an empty circle but with a line attached to it. The line can either point up or down, it doesn’t matter either way is correct. A quarter note looks very similar to the half note as it is a filled in circle with a line, again either up or down. The eighth note looks like a quarter note except it has a flag coming off the end of the line.

Each of the remaining notes are similar to the eighth note, each having filled in circles with flags. The number of flags determines the type of note. A sixteenth note will have two flags, thirty-second note has three, sixty-forth has four, and so on. These musical notes that have flags can be tied together with a beam. One beam for an eighth and so on, with the number of beams matching the number of flags.

Musical notes can have their time designation added to as well. If a dot is placed to the right of the note it is to be held for the full count plus half. This makes the musical note a dotted, whatever the note is. For example, a dot next to a quarter note will make it a dotted quarter and that note is to be held for a beat and a half in common time.