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Rhythmic Dictation | How To Read Eighth Notes

We already know that a whole note sounds for four beats,


a half note sounds for two beats,


and a quarter note for only one beat.


Just like a half note is half of a whole note, a quarter note is half of a half note, in the same sense an eighth note is half of a quarter note.

This simply means that, just like it takes two half notes to fill the same amount of time as one whole note, and two quarter notes to fill the same amount of time as one half note, it will take two eighth notes to fill the same amount of time as one quarter note, or beat.


In a situation like this, the first eighth note in any given beat is counted as the beat, meaning “One, Two, Three, or Four”. This is known as the down beat because it is the strongest part of the beat.


The second eighth note in any given beat is the upbeat and is counted by saying the word “And”.


Remember when counting eighth notes that each note accounts for two equal halves of a beat, none shorter or longer than the other. Count your eighth notes as evenly as possible without shortening or elongating the beat.

To further explain, let’s take a look at a couple of measures which incorporate eighth notes.

In the first measure, we see that beats one, two, and four contain quarter notes and beat three contains two eighth notes. The first eighth note in beat three will be counted as down beat three and the second eighth note will be counted as the upbeat, “And”.


In measure two beats one and four contain quarter notes, and beats two and three are each divided into two equal eighth notes.


This is an eighth rest. Wherever there is an eighth rest you should remain silent for half of a beat.


Just like an eighth note, an eighth rest can occur on either the down beat or the up beat.


In this first measure, beat three has an eighth note on the down beat and an eighth rest on the up beat. This simply means that you should play the first half of beat three but remain silent for the second half.


Now, in the second measure the eighth note and the eighth rest are switched. On beat two, the down beat this time contains an eighth rest and the up beat contains an eighth note. With this you remain silent throughout the first half of the beat and come back in with the word “And” on the up beat.


In this next example we see that the first note on the down beat of beat one is an eighth note. Now, the up beat of beat one contains a quarter note.


You might be thinking, “How is this possible if the quarter note sounds for one beat and we already have an eighth note in that beat? Wouldn’t that be extending the beat”?

Actually, the answer is no. We already know that quarter notes can be played from down beat to down beat, meaning from beat one to beat two, beat two to beat three, et cetera.

Quarter notes can also be counted from up beat to up beat. Whenever there is an eighth note or an eighth rest on the first half of the beat followed by a quarter note on the up beat that quarter note sounds from the up beat to the up beat of the very next beat.

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