Learning the Note Values and Counting

One of the most crucial elements of learning to be a good musician is understanding rhythm and how everything fits together, this serves the purpose of quantifying what we play and don’t play, as well as when we play and how long we play for.


I’m going to walk you through the fundamentals of reading the note values that make up rhythm and time. We will start with the notes that represent sound (when you play), these note values are best represented in my brick wall below. Have a look at the Brick Wall below, these are the symbols that represent the values of sound (what we play). You’ll notice that every note value has an American name and a British name, they are both helpful in their own ways but for the time being we will focus on the American names. 

Brick Wall.jpg

The American names are all given in relation to the whole note, you’ll notice that a half note is literally half a whole note therefore, is called a half note. This continues; a quarter note is one quarter of a whole note therefore called and quarter note and so on. What is really important here is that you not only see the relationship between each note and the whole note, but also how they relate between one another. You’ll notice that once you get to eighth notes, sixteenth notes and beyond, the note tails can change form when they are placed with equal values, this is evident in the right half of the brick wall where you can get eighth notes grouped together and sixteenth notes grouped together; the beam across the top now represents the tail. The stems of the notes can also face up or down depending where they are placed on the music staff, all notes in this brick wall have the stems facing up.



Test your knowledge of the brick wall and answer the questions below:


  1. How many quarter notes in a whole note:
  2. How many eighth notes in a half note:
  3. How many quarter notes in a half note:
  4. How many sixteenth notes in a half note:
  5. How many eighth notes in a quarter note:
  6. How many half notes in a whole note:
  7. Two of what equals a quarter note:
  8. Two of what equals an eighth note:
  9. How many sixteenth notes in a quarter note:
  10. Two of what equals a whole note:


For every note that represents sound there is a symbol of equal value that represents silence. These are called rests and there is a rest symbol for each value as indicated in the brick wall of rests below.

Brick Wall of Rests.jpg

Before we can start reading rhythm we need to know about the music STAFF or STAVE, which is a set of five lines and four spaces. The staff is our canvas and it is where we place those magical dots that represent pitch and duration. 


Now we will try reading some rhythms in 4/4 also know as common time. 4/4 is a time signature which identifies what value of beats are in each bar, there are all types of time signatures which create different pulses and feels, for more on time signatures head to time signatures.

4/4 means 4 quarter notes in a bar which looks like this:

Bar of quarter notes.jpg

When playing you should always count out loud the beats in the bar to start off with so it is very clear where everything lands. I highly recommend using a metronome for the below exercises so you can start to develop your sense of timing. Set your metronome to quarter note equals 60bpm for the below clapping exercises.


Using your metronome at quarter note = 60, Clap and count your way through the below exercises. When you come across a rest still count it, just don’t clap it.

Clapping Exercises


Clapping Ex. 1.jpg


Clapping Ex. 2.jpg

Now to reading and counting adding eighth notes, we have 4 extra syllables here and to differentiate between the beats we use + (and).


Bar of Eight Notes.jpg

Now we’ll add eighth notes into our clapping exercises, we always count our smallest note; in this case eighth notes so 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +. Have a go at the following:


Eighth Note Clapping Ex. 1.jpg


Eighth Note Clapping Ex. 2.jpg

Thats it for learning the note values and counting!


Back to Guitar & Music Theory Basics