top of page

Understanding Basic Rhythm

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, or counts.


Likewise, if the top number of the time signature was 3 this would mean that within each measure there would be 3 equal beats.


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 will 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. A half note can be identified as an open dot with a stem.


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.


This here is a half rest.


This means that instead of sounding for 2 equal beats, you rest for 2 equal beats.


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.


This here is a quarter rest.


This means that instead of sounding for 1 equal beat each, you rest for 1 equal beat.


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. This is where the bottom number of a time signature comes in.

Another way to say that you have a quarter of something is to say that you have "one-fourth".


This circle is divided into four equal pieces with only one of them colored a darker shade of red. This means that one of the four, or one-fourth, is different from the rest.


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.

bottom of page