Do you sing in a choir? Can you read music? Do you think that you would have a higher quality musical experience if you could read music? Well, on this site I am going to teach you how to read music.

One element of music is rhythm. Rhythm is the timing of sounds over time. When you tap your feet to music you are tapping a rhythm. When you learn to read music you must learn to read rhythms. Learning to read rhythms will help you become a better choir member because you will be able to learn your music faster and play like a professional wedding band of Melbourne.

In this lesson you will learn about notes, time signatures, and bars (or measures).

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The sounds in music are represented by notes. Notes are named according to their relative length or duration: Whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, sixteenth note, etc.  A half note has one half the duration of a whole note. A quarter note has one fourth the duration of a whole note.

Music is written on a staff. The rhythm is indicated by the sequence of notes moving from left to right on the staff. As you move from left to right on the staff, you are moving through time. As you move up and down on the staff you are moving through pitch. We will not discuss pitch in this lesson.


Note that half notes consist of an open head with a vertical stem. A half note gets half the value of a whole note. For example, if a whole note has a duration of 4 seconds, then a half note would last for 2 seconds.

Quarter notes have a black or closed head and a vertical stem. A quarter note gets 1/4 the value of a whole note, so if a whole note lasts 4 seconds then a quarter note lasts 1 second.

Eighth notes have 1/8 the duration of a whole note, or 1/2 the duration of a quarter note. Eighth notes consist of a black head, a vertical stem and a flag.

Time Signature

The time signature is a fraction at the beginning of a musical piece that indicates the number of beats in a measure, and the kind of note that gets one beat. The time signature in this example is the fraction 4/4. The top number 4 means that there are four beats in a measure. The bottom number 4 means that a quarter note gets one beat. You might say that 4 x ¼ = 1 measure. A measure is indicated by bar lines which are vertical lines on the staff. A measure or bar is the space between the bar lines. In this example there are four beats between the bar lines. Each of the measures in figure 5 contains 4 beats, but a different number of notes.

The first measure has 4 quarter notes because a quarter note gets one beat. The second measure contains just two notes. These notes are half notes, and a half note is twice as long as a quarter note, so you only need two half notes to get four beats. So each half note gets two beats. The third measure has only one whole note. A whole note is as long as four quarter notes, so it is worth four beats. Finally, in the fourth measure there are 8 eighth notes. An eighth note is only half as long as a quarter note, so it takes twice as many eighth notes as quarter notes to fill a measure.

Let’s sing the rhythms in this example. For the first measure you are going to clap your hands steadily five times. As you clap, sing “one two three four.” When you sing “four” you should hold it until the fifth clap because the note has a duration that must last from the fourth beat until the first beat of the next measure. Think of it like this:

|1<–note–>|2<–note–>|3<–note–>|4<–note–>|off      Listen to quarter notes

The vertical lines represent your hand claps, and the spaces between the vertical lines are the notes. So the first quarter note stretches from 1 to 2, the second quarter note stretches from 2 to 3, the third quarter note stretches from 3 to 4, and the fourth quarter note stretches from 4 to off.

For the second measure clap your hands again five times, but sing “one three.” When you sing “one” sustain or hold the sound until the third clap and then sing “three” and sustain it until the fifth clap.  The illustration below shows this. There are again five handclaps represented by the  vertical lines, but only two notes. The first note stretches from 1 to 3 and the second note stretches from 3 to off (or 5).

|1<–note—|———->|3<–note—|———->|off      Listen to half notes

For the third measure clap your hands again five times and sing “one,” holding the note until the fifth clap.

|1<–note—|———–|———–|———->|off      Listen to whole note

For the fourth measure clap your hands again five times, but this time you must sing two notes for each beat. To do this you will sing “one and two and three and four and.” That is how you count eighth notes  when quarter notes get one beat.

|1<-note-><-note->|2<-note-><-note->|3<-note-><-note->|4<-note-><-note->|off    Listen to eighth notes

One last example is of sixteenth notes. Sixteenth notes get half the value of an eighth note.  In music with a 4/4 time signature, it takes 4 sixteenth notes to make a beat (remember that a quarter note gets one beat and a sixteenth note gets 1/4 the value of a quarter note).  See sixteenth notes in figure 6. Note that sixteenth notes have two flags on the note stem.

You count the sixteenth notes like this: one-e-an-a two-e-an-a …  Listen to 16th notes

The music that you sing consists of various combinations of notes and “rests.”