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Lesson 1: Note values, duration, and time signatures

Definitions and basic concepts. Created by All Star Orchestra.

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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Kat
    I've always wanted to know exactly how the duration of the note is measured. How do people measure speed and know how fast or slow to go?
    I'm starting off playing the violin and it's sometimes very hard to keep the tempo. Counting seconds is hard while focusing on other things.
    (140 votes)
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    • leafers tree style avatar for user Alina Luke
      It will get easier as you play more. You'll get a feel for the tempos of pieces you play. One thing that would help you, I think, is a metronome. You can put in the tempo marking and it will count the beats for you. I've been playing violin and singing most of my life and it's definitely something that gets easier the more you do it (as with most things).
      (76 votes)
  • hopper cool style avatar for user Montes, Kenia - period 1
    in , how much does a whole note count for? i get confused with all of this...
    (2 votes)
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  • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Switz
    So, what is the bottom number in a time signature? I don't understand.
    (4 votes)
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    • leaf blue style avatar for user CTG
      Hi Clark,

      The bottom number in a time signature represents the beat unit, or what is considered to be a beat within a measure while the top determines how many beats are in one bar. The bottom number will always be a power of two: 1 represents a whole-note, 2 represents a half-note, 4 represents a quarter-note, 8 represents an eighth-note and so on. Thus a time signature of 3/4 means that there are three quarter notes in a measure and a time signature of 12/16 means there are twelve sixteenth-notes in a measure.

      I hope this helps,

      Virtuoso
      (6 votes)
  • leaf green style avatar for user Katie
    It will get easier as you play more. You'll get a feel for the tempos of pieces you play. One thing that would help you, I think, is a metronome. You can put in the tempo marking and it will count the beats for you. I've been playing violin and singing most of my life and it's definitely something that gets easier the more you do it (as with most things).
    (6 votes)
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  • aqualine sapling style avatar for user Amelie
    I want to take a music quiz, I have seen them in math but I can only find music vidios can someone direct me as to where to find that?
    (4 votes)
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    • leaf grey style avatar for user Laurel Engelhardt
      www.musictheory.net is a great website for becoming more fluent in reading music. If you want to truly understand the theory though, I would suggest music lessons to you if you don't have them already. Piano arguably is the best instrument to get a good grasp of these concepts.
      (3 votes)
  • leaf blue style avatar for user Liah C.
    what improves sight reading?
    (2 votes)
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    • duskpin seed style avatar for user Eowyn of Rohan
      Doing lots of it! Sightread whatever you can lay your hands on. Don't worry about getting it perfect, just sightread through the whole thing. Sometimes, when I practice the piano, I just open a hymnal to a random page and sightread whatever song I open to. Flashcards can also help if you're unfamiliar with the position of notes on the staff. Learn to recognize intervals quickly, as well as blocked and broken chords. Hope this helps!
      (6 votes)
  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user IzzI
    I don't get what the notes mean? whats the diffenets between a whole note and a eighth note, besides the way it looks?
    (3 votes)
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    • piceratops seed style avatar for user Meri Gray
      Notes are fractions, Izzy. A whole note is an integer, a whole number, half, quarter and eighth notes are fractions of the whole. Two half notes fit in a whole note (1 or 1/2+1/2). Four quarter notes fit into a whole note (1 or 1/4+1/4+1/4+1/4). Eight eighth notes fit into a whole note (1 or 1/8+1/8+1/8+1/8+1/8+1/8+1/8+1/8). You should be able to see that two quarter notes or four eighth notes fit into a half note, and that two eighth notes fit into a quarter note.

      As far as how they are used in music, they represent rhythm. They tell you how fast or slow a note should be played, relative to the notes around it. A whole note is held for the amount of time it takes to play two half notes, four quarter notes, or eight eighth notes.
      (5 votes)
  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Prateek Amana Gurjar
    What is time signature ?
    (3 votes)
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    • purple pi purple style avatar for user Actininium
      The numerator of a time signature specifies how many beats there are in a bar, and the denominator specifies what type of note gets one beat. For example, 3/4 indicates that there are three beats to a bar, and a quarter note is equal to one beat.
      (4 votes)
  • mr pants teal style avatar for user dgonzalez5
    why does 2 16th notes equal an 8th note?
    (3 votes)
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  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Mrudula Rapaka
    Is a whole note like this: 1...2...3...4?
    (4 votes)
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Video transcript

- [Instructor] A note represents the pitch and duration of a musical sound. Let's begin with duration or note value. Here are five note values. A whole note, which is a circle, a half note, which is a circle with a stem, so two half notes equal one whole note. A quarter note is like a half note, but it's filled in. Two of these equal a half note. Four of these equal a whole note. An eighth note is like a quarter note, plus a flag. Two of these equal a quarter note. Four equal a half note, and eight equal a whole note. A sixteenth note is like an eighth note, but with an extra flag. The pattern is the same, two sixteenths equal one eighth, four sixteenths equal one quarter, and so on. These flags can also be connected and the stems can go up or down without any change to the duration or length. Now let's look at how these notes specifically apply to music. We first begin with a time signature. The one that I'm choosing is 4/4. The top number indicates how many regular pulses or beats are in each measure or bar. The lower number tells us what kind of note is equal to one beat. Therefore, if we write four quarter notes in 4/4, the bar is over, and we add a bar line. If we do the same thing a second time, we have created two bars or two measures. The word measure and bar are used interchangeably. Let's use our five note values in 4/4. The whole note gets four beats. If we find a whole note in music with a time signature of four-four, we would play or sing a single note and it would last the whole bar. A half note would get half of the whole, or two beats. Let's listen to the beginning of Dvorak's New World Symphony's slow Movement. This brass choral has three measures, or three bars of half notes, and then one measure of a whole note. ("New World Symphony" by Dvorak)