Beginning to Read Music

by John Craton

Shortening and Lengthening the Notes

We mentioned before that when we add flags to a quarter note, we are shortening the length of time the note is played. For every flag we add, we cut the note value in half. One flag, for instance, cuts a quarter note in half, making it an eighth note. Thus it takes two eighth notes to equal one beat, so you can play two eighth notes in a beat. (This is usually counted 1–and, 2–and...) Adding two flags divides the eighth note in half, making it a sixteenth note. It takes four sixteenth notes to equal one beat (counted 1-e-and-a, 2-e-and-a...). When we have several flag notes together in a piece of music, it is easier on the eye to join them together with beams rather than having a large group of flag notes jumbled together:

The number of beams equals the number of flags that the notes would have normally, so that one beam connects a series of eighth notes, two beams a series of sixteenth notes, and so on.

In addition to shortening notes, we also can make them longer. This is done by adding a dot after the note. A dot after a note increases the length of time the note is played by half the note value. For instance, if we place a dot after a half note, the note would be held for three beats (2+1). A dot after a quarter note would equal 1½ beats (the quarter note plus one-half its value, or 1+½). Occasionally you may see a dot following even a whole note, which would give a total of six beats (4+2). However we extend or cut short our notes, we always still must total only the number or beats in a measure. In 4/4 time, for instance, the measures may look something like this:

Listen to the example.

Notice that all the notes in each measure add up to a total of 4, the maximum number of beats that can be included in each measure. [Practice these in your workbook.]

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