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  • Writer's pictureTom Glasson

Grade 1:3 - Time Value of Notes

Now we know what notes are, and what time signatures mean, we can explore how the time value of notes work. The different notes can be used to construct bars in many ways. Remember these?

Musical Note Names

Each note has a different value and can be combined in different ways to fit each bar. Remember that each bar has the value of a certain number of crotchets (or quarter notes) as defined by the time signature.

There are always the same number of beats in the bar, no matter how they are divided, there are never more, or less. You can include gaps called rests, but we will get to that in a later lesson.

Music has a steady ‘beat’ or pulse, if you’ve ever found yourself tapping your foot along to music, that’s probably the beat we discussed in the last section. Sometimes you’ll hear the beat easily, sometimes it may be harder to notice.

Rhythm in 4/4

This rhythm above is in 4/4 and has 4 crotchets value per bar. A crotchet is called a quarter note in the US style, because in 4/4, there are 4 in the bar, each is a quarter of the bar. The different note symbols have different values. This table shows a value chart.

Time Value of Notes

A table which shows each note and it's value compared to the other notes.
Table of Musical Note Values

The crotchet (quarter note) is the standard beat, and the time signature indicates how many are in a bar.

The Minim (half note) is worth 2 crotchets (¼ notes). It’s called a half note, and worth half a bar.

The Semibreve (or whole note) is worth 2 minims (½ notes), or 4 crotches (¼ notes). Whole note, whole bar.

There are also shorter notes;

The Quaver (or 8th note) is worth half a crotchet (¼ note), so each crotchet will have 2 quavers.

The Semi-quaver (16th note) is worth half a quaver, which means there are 4 of these for one crotchet (¼ note) or 16 for a semibreve. There are other notes too, which will be introduce in another grade.

You can see how the number names from the US system make this easy to understand. But don’t ignore those UK names, you may come across them when you work with other musicians throughout your career.

You will need to remember the names, the symbol and how much they are worth.

Let’s look back at that music example now we know the values.

Music showing how the rhythm follows the beat

Remember the beat is a quarter note and this is 4/4 which has 4 crotchet beats, so whatever combination of notes we use need to add up to 4 crotchets in each bar.

The same idea is true for all time signatures, so in 3/4 we need to add up the notes to equal 3 crotchets - still called quarter notes, not third notes - that would just be too complicated.

Music showing how the rhythm follows the beat in 3/4


You cannot use a whole note in 2/4 or 3/4 as it’s value is longer than the bar.

*The time value of the notes is not measured in actual time, the notes are relative to each to other. The actual speed is defined by the tempo which sets how many beats there are per minute. A half note at really fast tempo can be quicker than a quarter note at a slow tempo... It's weird, but it will start to make sense as we learn the system.

A Free Gift for you...

Download the Grade 1 Music Theory Workbook - An Introduction to Music Theory for free. The workbook is a written course which teaches you the entire content of Grade 1 music theory from start to finish, it is the full written version of our video course. It contains activities, with answers, to test your knowledge and give you chance to practice what you are learning.

There are 19 sections, covering every topic as well as reference sheets and materials which will come in handy as you study.

Click here to check it out.

Introduction to Music Theory Workbook

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