Rhythm: The Long and the Short of It


I once had a good friend who was a fiddler. When folks would hear him play, it was hard for them to sit still, because his fiddling had something in it which made you want to get up and dance. "It's in the bowin'," he would say and grin, when asked how he managed to make folks want to dance. And I used to watch his bow. I soon noticed that when he bowed his fiddle, there was a wonderful combination of long and short movements, back and forth, across the strings. When he wanted to make you dance a hoedown, the movements were fast. When he wanted to make you dance a waltz, they were slow. These movements of the bow, long and short, fast and slow, were the magic of his fiddling.


Musical sounds, too, can be long or short and fast or slow. Long, short, fast, and slow are terms which are related to time, and music takes place in time. That part of music, the part that concerns time, is called rhythm.


Our music notation system uses notes. Notes are symbols which indicate the pitch and rhythm of sounds. Since we're concerned here with rhythm, we'll begin with a description of the rhythmic aspects of notes.

Note Parts

A note may be a simple "egg-shaped" thing like this:

Example 1: Whole Note:

Or, a note might be something with a stem and flags, like this:

Example 2: Sixteenth Note:

The parts of a sixteenth note are the (note) head, the stem, and the flag(s):

Example 3: The Note Parts:

Flagged notes in groups use beams instead:

Example 4: Sixteenth Notes wth Beams:

Note Values

The most commonly used notes, and the ones we'll learn about in this course, are the whole note, the half note, the quarter note, the eighth note, and the sixteenth note:

Example 5: Note Values:

Each note is equal to two of the smaller ones:

Example 6: Note Relationships:

Those same notes, placed along a staff might look like this:

Example 7: The Notes of Example 6 Placed on a Staff:

  • Example 7 Audio:

    Once we assign a value to one of the notes, we can figure out the value of the other notes. One whole note equals two half notes. One half note equals two quarter notes. One whole note equals four quarter notes. Well, you get the idea.

    For example, if we assign the value of one beat to a quarter note (a very common occurence), we can then figure out that a half note will be equal to two beats, since it is twice as large as a quarter note.

    Once we know the value of a note, we can perform it, since we know when to play or sing it and how long to hold it.


    Sometimes two notes are joined by a curved line, which is called a "tie." When two notes are joined by a tie, they become one note which is equal to the sum of both of the notes.

    Example 8: a Tie:


    While a note indicates that the performer is to play a note, a rest indicates the performer is to be silent. Rests have values, just like notes. A whole rest is equal in value to a whole note and a half rest is equal in value to a half note. The rests and their equivalents can be seen in the textbook (p. 15) and the software (use the Chapter Two/Rests menu option, then the MENU/Instructions menu option) and below:

    Example 9: Rest values:

    The Score

    When you perform music, you look at the notes which are arranged on a staff in a score.

    Example 10: A Score:

    By the end of the course, you will be able to perform this song. For now, just observe that some of the notes you've learned are used in this song.

    Rhythm Lecture Review

    Take a look at this to see if you got the main points of the lecture.

    Terms to know:

    The terms and concepts you should know are:
  • Rhythm
  • Score
  • Note, Head (or Note Head), Stem, Flag, Beam
  • Quarter Note, Half Note, Whole Note, Sixteenth Note
  • Rest, Eighth Rest, Quarter Rest, Half Rest, Whole Rest, Sixteenth Rest
  • Tie

    Exercises and Assignments:

  • Read from page 12 (Starting at "Music-A Temporal Art") through page16.
  • Do the Computer Exercises 2, 3-6, 7-9:
  • Do the Written Exercises on pp. 16-18.
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