Music is made of two basic elements – rhythm and pitch. Rhythm is connected with the relative duration of sound (how short or long one sound is relative to another). Pitch is connected with the relative frequency of sound (how low or high one sound is relative to another). Rhythm are more fundamental than pitch. Rhythm can exist without pitch, whereas pitch cannot exist without rhythm. This is because every pitch, whether high or low, must have a duration or length of time that it is heard for. If it did not have duration, then we would not be able to hear it.
Another reason why rhythm is more fundamental than pitch is because it is more natural to people. Pitch is divided into two groups: melody and harmony. Melody is an ordered sequence of pitches and harmony is when two or more pitches are heard simultaneously.
In music, we communicate the duration of sound through written symbols called “notes”. There are three basic parts to a note: the note head, the stem and the flag. We are able to alter the duration of a note by changing any of its three parts.
There are five different types of note durations. The first duration note is called the Whole note or Semibreve. It has no flag and no stem.
The whole note is the note of longest duration.
The note above is called a Half note or another word, Minim. It has a note head and a stem. It is called a half note because it is half the duration of a whole note. Because of this, the duration of two half notes is equal to the duration of one whole note.
The next note is called Quarter note or another word, Crotchet.
A quarter note has a note head colored in and has a stem. It is called a quarter note because it is one quarter the duration of a whole note. Because of this, the duration of four quarter notes is equal to the duration of one whole note.
The following note is called an Eighth note or Quaver.
An eighth note has a head which is colored in, a stem and a flag. It is called an eighth note because it is one eighth the duration of a whole note. Because of this, the duration of eight eighth notes are equal to the duration of one whole note.
The next note is called Sixteenth note or Semiquaver.
A sixteenth note has a note head which is colored in, a stem and two flags. It is called a sixteenth note because it is one sixteenth the duration of a whole note. Because of this, the duration of sixteen sixteenth notes are equal to the duration of one whole note.
As you have probably noticed that each time a flag is added the duration of the note is shortened by one half. (Eighth notes have one flag, sixteenth notes have two flags, thirty-second notes would have three flags, and so on and so forth).
Very often in music, notes with flags are grouped together. When this happens, the flags are replaced with beams. For example, two eighth notes that are grouped together would be joined with a beam like this.
For sixteenth notes that are grouped together would be joined with two beams, like this.
Below you will find a chart of the note durations. It is very important that you recognize the mathematical proportions between the notes. Notice how each type of note is half the duration of the note above it. For example, a sixteenth note is half of an eighth note; and eighth note is half of a quarter note; a quarter is half of a half note; etc.