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As most piano players would be aware of, there are different durations of notes. In today’s contemporary music, you will typically see the following basic note durations, whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note and sixteenth note. For most of the contemporary rock and pop music you hear over the radio these days, it is written in the 4/4 time signature.

The top number will usually indicate to us the number of specified notes there are in a bar. As for the bottom number, it helps us to determine the duration that specified note is. Take for example, in 4/4 time, the top number shows us that there are 4 notes in a bar. While the bottom number tells us that each note is 1/4 of the length of the bar, or in other words, a quarter note. Hence, we will be able to identify that a song written with a 4/4 time signature is made up of bars containing 4 quarter note long beats.

There are actually many other possible time signatures. However, only a number of them are actually commonly used in rock and pop music. Some of them include 4/4 (most common music genres: rock, pop, etc.), 6/8 (rock ballad), 2/4 (country/polka) and 3/4 (waltz). For the purpose of this post, we will be focusing on the 4/4 time signature.

In 4/4 time, a whole note would be held for the entire duration of one bar. In order to play a whole note, you would have to either count the beat inside of your head or alternatively, tap your foot four times to the tempo (speed) of the song. However, do take note that the intervals have to be even.

As for half notes in 4/4 time, they would be held for half of the bar or two of the 4 beats of the bar. To simply put, you would either count for two beats before going to the next half note or tap your foot twice in even intervals. For quarter notes, it will be just one foot tap. Eighth notes are actually half the length of quarter notes. Finally, sixteenth notes are 1/16 of the duration of a bar in 4/4 time and 1/4 of the duration of a quarter note. Actually, there are still other notes such as the 32nd, 64th and 128th. Since they are pretty rare, we won’t cover them this time around.

If you are interested to learn more about music theory and reading of notes, check what Awesome Piano has to offer. We conduct piano lessons in Singapore both at the client’s and teacher’s own premises on a 1-to-1 basis.