The goal for this lesson is to understand the length of notes and their corresponding rests. This lesson will be critical for future lessons. Please take your time to understand both the piano roll and sheet music way of doing things.
Notes have various values that go with them. In the piano roll there are corresponding note lengths. Here is a chart showing them:
|Whole Note & Whole Rest |
|Half Note & Half Rest |
|Quarter Note & Quarter Rest |
|8th Note & 8th Rest |
|16th Note & 16th Rest |
|32nd Note & 32nd Rest |
The system is counted in beats. The beat is very easy and confusing at the same time. I will take the approach of saying a lot of half-truths. They are sorta true but when you get more advanced you will find out there is more to this.
A whole note is 4 beats long. A half note is 2 beats, a quarter is 1, and eight is ½. You see where this is going. Each note is half the previous note. There are also corresponding rests. In sheet music the whole, half and quarter are all unique, but from the eight on we get a pattern.
Another Visualization (Where quarter note gets the beat)
Rest Version (Where quarter note gets the beat)
The anatomy of the note
In sheet music there are 3 main parts of a note. The note head, the note stem, and the flag. The whole note is just a note head. The half note is a note head with a stem. The quarter note is a filled in note head with a stem.
From the eighth note on it's a filled in note head with a stem and a flag. The number of flags determines the note length. 1 flag is an eight note, 2 is a sixteenth note, 3 is a 32 second and on and on each one being worth half of the previous.
Note that the flags can be grouped together with what's known as a beam. The way to know if a note should be beamed or not is something we will get to after we have a better understanding of time signatures. For now just know if you see notes grouped with a beam the number of beams tells you what type of note it is and therefore how long it is.
The rests follow the same pattern. Be careful about the whole and half rests, their placement and direction are specific.
At the moment we just need to be able to identify the note and rest lengths. Provided is an exercise. Download the worksheet, the site is not currently interactive. Go through and write beneath each note and rest its length in beats. Use the table if you cannot remember. An answer key is also provided.
Note Length Identification Exercise
The Piano Roll Equivalence
Each of these notes corresponds to a specific length on the piano roll. On the piano roll the more you zoom in the more grid lines appear. So you make sure you are zoomed in enough to see the first 2 or 3 measures. The distance to the first darker line that starts the next number is a measure. If you go ¼ of a measure (assuming the piano is in 4/4, I’ve yet to come across one where this is not the case) then that is a quarter note!
From there you can make all the others, a half note is twice as long, an eight is half as long. If you simply leave that same amount of space blank then you have a rest! See the chart for pictures.
In this way you can create the piano roll version of the sheet music. For the above exercise write its equivalent piano roll form in the DAW of your choice. The answer key provided will have a MIDI file that can be opened in nearly any DAW.
You should now be able to identify the basic notes and their lengths and recognize them in both the piano roll and the sheet music. You should also be able to translate one into the other. The next lesson will go into dotted notes.
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