Short, to-the-point, and easy-to-understand classical music composer biography on Claude Debussy provided by Five Minute Mozart.

Understanding Basic Rhythm

Run time: 5m 19s  |  Release Date: February 2nd, 2018

Now that we have a basic understanding of the notes on a staff with either a treble clef or a bass clef let’s start to take a look at how music is divided rhythmically. For starters, music on a staff is broken up into groupings of counts called measures. Each measure contains a certain amount of beats based upon a set of two numbers placed at the beginning of a staff called the time signature.

This is a 4/4 time signature. What this essentially means is that, because the top number is 4, within each measure there are four equal beats. One - Two - Three - Four / One - Two - Three - Four.

Likewise, if the top number of the time signature was 3 this would mean that within each measure there would be 3 equal beats. One - Two - Three / One - Two - Three. I’ll explain what the bottom number of a time signature represents later on but for now let’s only worry about the top number.

In order to understand music from a rhythmic aspect we have to take a look a multiple different note durations. The first and most basic note duration we’ll discuss is called a whole note. A whole note sounds for four equal beats, or counts. Therefore, on a staff with a 4/4 time signature which we already know as having four beats per measure a whole note would last for the entire, or whole, measure.

This here is a whole rest. This means that instead of sounding for 4 equal beats you rest for 4 equal beats.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “But what if the top number of the time signature is 3 like we just saw a little earlier?” If this was the case you would not be able to use a whole note in any single measure because a whole note lasts for four beats and the measure has been designated by the time signature to hold only 3 beats. You would need at least 4 beats in a measure in order to have a whole note in that measure.

If we take a whole note and break it in half what we end up with is a half note. If a whole note sounds for 4 beats and half of 4 is 2, a half note would then sound for 2 equal beats. This also means that it would take two half notes to sound for the same amount of time as one whole note. Obviously enough, two halves equals one whole. Here’s how they match up.

The final note duration which we’ll discuss in this video is called a quarter note. A quarter note sounds for only one beat, or count. Now, if there are four beats to a measure and a quarter note sounds for one beat then in one measure there can be up to four quarter notes.

Now, this is interesting because if there are four beats to a measure and four quarter notes what this essentially means if that the quarter note is the beat. Four equal beats, four equal quarter notes. This is where the bottom number of a time signature comes in.  The bottom number in a 4/4 time signature is 4. This number four represents a quarter note. Therefore, whenever you see a 4/4 time signature you will know that within each measure there are four equal beats in which the quarter note gets the beat. Now, this doesn’t always necessarily mean that there will always be four visible quarter notes invert single measure that’s part of a 4/4 time signature. Any combination of whole notes, half notes, and quarter notes, as well as a number of other note durations which we have note yet discussed may be used throughout, like this.

Now that you have an understanding of a few basic note durations as well as what a time signature represents, int he next video lesson I will begin to talk basic intervals and the notes in between each natural note. But before you move on don’t forget to check out for free helpful practice sheets and more in-depth explanations of everything discussed in this video.

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5 - The Dot.png

The dot is a symbol in music which when placed next to a note or rest increases the rhythmic duration of that note by half of its original value. For example, a half note on any staff position sounds for two full beats, and a half rest requires two beats of silence. When a dot is placed next to a half note the duration of that note increases from two beats to three beats.


Here's why: if a half note sounds for two beats and a dot adds half of that note's original value, because half of two equals one and two plus one equals three, the duration of a dotted half note is therefore three beats.