Contents: Start with Staffs

Playing Notes on the Keyboard

Note Values and Rhythm

Time Signatures




Minor Key Signatures and Scales

More about Note Values and Rhythm

By now, you are quite familiar with basic note and rest values. Let's look at some new note values and signs that express information about the rhythm of a piece of music.


Some notes are actually made up of two note values that are linked together with a tie. A tie indicates that a note be held for the combined length of the two tied notes. For this reason, the two notes that are tied together on the staff always have exactly the same pitch, Ties are often used to link two notes across the barline, as can be seen in the last two bars of this excerpt from "Daisy Bell,"

Because of their similar appearance, ties are often confused with slurs, which are defined in the later section on accents and articulation. The way to tell them apart is to remember that ties link notes of the same pitch, while slurs always link notes of different pitches.

Extended Rests

Extended rests are used primarily in orchestral or band music since these genres often require that certain instruments rest for several bars, A numeral above the sign indicates the number of measures for which the instruments should rest. This sign indicates that the rest should last for twelve bars,


Sometimes a composer or arranger wishes to indicate that the regular beat or tempo of a piece should hold or pause for a moment on a specific note or rest. This hold or pause is indicated with a fermata, as shown in the following two phrases of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," (The amount of time that the indicated note or rest should be held is left to the discretion of the performer.)

Another kind of pause of indefinite length is indicated with two slashes above the staff (//), This marking is called a cesura (or coesura)-and indicates that the note is held for its normal time value and then followed by an abrupt pause at the performer's discretion,

Triplets and Other Note Groupings

Composers and arrangers sometimes need to divide a basic note value into three notes of equal value. These three notes are collectively called a triplet, which is indicated by the numeral 3 on the beam. Each "eighth. note" in the triplet below is worth one-third of one beat. Try clapping the rhythm of "March of the Wooden Soldiers" (from The Nutcracker),

Other note values may be used in a triplet. Here's an example of "quarter notes" linked in a triplet. Notice that a bracket is used when notes cannot be joined by a beam, Each of these is worth one-third of the value of a half note, or two-thirds of a beat, Play the first phrase of "Hey There, You with the Stars in Your Eyes,"

Triplets can also contain dotted notes and rests, Thus, in "Lilliburlero," the dotted "eighth notes" in each triplet are actually worth one-half of a beat. Each "sixteenth note" is worth one-sixth of a beat.

Duplets do not commonly occur in popular music. They are used in music written in compound time signatures to indicate that two notes receive the value commonly afforded to three notes in that timing, The duplet in this phrase in 6/8 indicates that the two "eighth-notes" are played in the time usually allotted to three eighth notes. This means that each note of the duplet is worth one and a half beats in this time signature.


The overall speed of a piece of music is called its tempo. Composers and arrangers often indicate approximately how fast a piece should be performed by using an Italian or English term on top of the staff at the beginning of a piece or section, Here are some common Italian tempo markings,

Lento (or Largo) = Very slow

Adagio =Slow

Andante = Walking pace Moderato = Medium Allegretto= Medium fast Allegro= Fast

Presto= Very fast

Prestissimo = As fast as possible

Certain terms call for a changing tempo. The term rallentando indicates that the tempo should slow down. Ritardando (often abbreviated as tithed, or rit.) has the same meaning. Accelerando calls for a quickening of the tempo. The term a tempo tells the musician to return to the normal speed of the piece. Rubato indicates that the tempo should speed up and slow down according to taste.

The metronome is a device that taps out beats at regular intervals, The metronome's speed may be adjusted, and so it is useful to musicians for setting regular and precise tempos during practice. A metronome marking at the beginning of a piece or section indicates the number of beats per minute. This marking indicates sixty quarter notes per minute (so each quarter note lasts one second), This is a moderately slow tempo,

Compositions with time signatures that call for a half note, dotted quarter, or eighth note to equal one beat may include metronome markings with these notes, Each of the metronome markings that follow represent a moderate tempo (moderato),


Certain Italian and English words are used to indicate that a piece or section be played with a particular expressive quality,

Agitato = Agitated Energico = Energetically
Animato: Animated Espressivo =  Expressively
Appassionato = With passion Facile = Easily
Bravura = Boldly Grave = Slow and solemn
Brillante = Brilliantly Legato=  Smoothly
Cantabile= As if sung Maestoso = Majestically
Con anima = With feeling Mesto = Sadly
Con moto= With movement Scherzando = Playfully
Con spirito = With spirit Semplice = Simply
Dolce = Sweetly Sostenutto = Sustained
Doloroso = Sorrowfully Vivace = Lively


Terms or symbols that indicate volume are called dynamic markings, Italian or English terms may be used at the beginning of a piece to indicate overall volume, Symbols are often used to abbreviate these words, especially when volume changes occur during the piece, Take the time to memorize these common dynamic symbols and their meanings,

ppp = Pianississimo = As soft as possible 

pp = Pianissimo = Very soft

p   =  Piano = Soft 

mp   = Mezzo piano- Moderately soft

mf   = Mezzo forte: Moderately loud

f  = Forte = Loud

ff  = Fortissimo: Very loud

fff   = Fortississimo - As loud as possible

An increase in volume is indicated by the term crescendo (or cresc,), The terms decrescendo and diminuendo (or dim.) indicate a decrease in volume. Volume changes for specific notes are indicated with a crescendo or diminuendo symbol, A crescendo, followed by a decrescendo is indicated in the last four bars of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," (The relative length of these symbols indicates the notes included in the volume change,)

Next Page:

Contents: Start with Staffs

Playing Notes on the Keyboard

Note Values and Rhythm

Time Signatures




Minor Key Signatures and Scales