Note values

Note values are often explained using a diagram called a “note tree”. My chart here is similar in reasoning but shows notes placed as they would be in music.
However, to emphasize the math behind the symbols, I make a circle with my hand for a whole note, add the index finger of my other hand for a half note, make the circle into a fist for a quarter note, and wiggle my index finger for an eighth note (to remind that something must be added to the stem to make the eighth.) The principle is so sound, it often works very well with adults too.
This simple concept is very important and very powerful. Each time something is added to a note, the length of the note is cut in half. Although a knowledge of fractions is obviously an advantage, it is not necesary to use fractions to count. I developed this idea for children under seven, to help them understand how we keep track of time. However, some of my beginning adult students have found it an excellent way to instantly grasp the same basic information.
Summing up:
  1. Hand forming open-circle = whole note
  2. Hand forming open-circle + index finger = half note
  3. Hand forming closed-circle (fist)+ index finger = quarter note
  4. Hand forming closed-circle (fist)+ wiggling index finger = eighth note

Basic rests


Note values show us how long to press keys.
Rests have values too. They show us how long not to press keys, and they also show us when to release keys.
  1. A whole note = a whole rest
  2. A half note = a half rest
  3. A quarter note = a quarter rest
  4. An eighth note = an eighth rest
(Note to more advanced students: the whole rest is an exception. It is also used to indicate a measure of silence, no matter what the time signature is: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 3/8, 6/8, 9/8, etc. In addition, when a measure contains more than one “voice”, either voice may be silent for a whole measure, and again a whole rest is used.)
In elementary music, a whole rest is immediately recognizable; it is placed in the center of an otherwise blank measure. You will never see this with a half rest.
  1. Whole and half rests both look like little black blocks when they are written in elementary music. The whole rest is written hanging from the fourth line (counting up), and the half rest is written sitting on the third line.
  2. The quarter rest looks like many things. For me it looks like a “Z” that is slanted with a “C” hooked on to the bottom. However, many of my students think it looks like a snake, a black lightning bolt, etc. The only important thing is to remember what it looks like and that it is a quarter rest.
  3. The eighth rest is the first rest that may be connected logically to its corresponding note. Single eighth notes have “flags”, and these flags always point to the right, no matter what the direction of the stem is. It might take a bit of imagination to see the connection, but the top of the eighth rest is a bit like a flag “blowing to the left”, in the opposite direction from the flag of the eighth note, which “blows to the right”.