Staff Notes and Their Symbols


Musical sounds on staff are represented in writing by symbol called notes. Notes on a staff represent what pitch to play and for how long. The note (from nota Latin a mark or sign) consists of either one, two, or three parts, (draw notes) these being referred to respectively as head, stem, and flag (or hook). A note flag is the little line that comes off the top or bottom of the note stem. The flag is often called tail or cross- stroke. The stem appears on the right side of the head when turned up, but on the left side when turned down. The flag is always on the right side.

When you think of the word note as associated with music, you may think of a sound. However, in music, the major function of a note is to depict exactly how long a specific pitch should be held by the voice or instrument. These musical notes are of various shapes, values and duration or length.

Notes are like letters of the alphabet if we think of music as a language. They are that basic to the construction of a piece of music. Studying how note values fit against each other in a piece of sheet music is even more important than their musical pitches because if you change the notes values in a piece of music, you end up with completely different music.

Type of staff notes and Their Values

Notes come in different flavours, each with its own note value. Before we go into detail on each kind of note, have a look at diagram below, which shows most of the kinds of notes you will encounter in music arrangement so that their values add up the same in each row. The value of a half note is half that of a whole note, the value of a quarter note is a quarter that of a whole note, and so on. Each level of the “tree of notes” is equal to the others.

We have six principal notes which are in common use nowadays and one that is not commonly use. These are described in the table below.

Name
Symbol
Description
 Beat Value
Breve

Breve is represented by a hollow oval note head with no stem, like a whole note, with one or two vertical lines on either side. It has the time value of eight beats and lasts twice as long as a whole note. It is also called double whole note.
Play for 8 (eight) beats.
Semibreve

Semibreve is represented by an open hollow oval note head, like that of a half note (or minim), and no note stem. It has the time value of four beats and is equivalent to two half notes or four quarter notes. It is also called a whole note.
Play for 4 (four) beats
Minim

Minim is represented by hollow oval note head like a whole note and straight note stem with no flags like a quarter note. It has a time value of two beats. It is also called a half note.
Play for 2 (two) beats
Crotchet

Crotchet is represented by a filled-in oval note head and a straight, flagless stem. It has the time value of a half of a half note or one beat and is indicated by a filled oval with a stem. It’s also called a quarter note
Play for 1 (one) beats
Quaver


Quaver is represented by oval, filled-in note head and a straight note stem with one flag. It has the time value of the half of a quarter note or a half of a beat and is indicated by a filled oval, a stem, and one flag. It’s also called a eighth note.
Play for 1/2 (half) beats
Semiquaver

Semiquaver is represented by oval, filled-in note head and a straight note stem with two flags. It’s also called a sixteenth note.
Play for 1/4 (quarter) beats
Demisemiquaver


Demisemiquaver is represented by oval, filled-in note head and a straight note stem with three flags. It’s also called a thirty-second  note.
Play for 1/8 (eighth) beats

In the most common time signature, 4/4 time, also called common time, a whole note is held for four beats, a half note is held for two, and a quarter note lasts one beat. An eighth note lasts half a beat and a sixteenth note just a quarter of a beat in 4/4 time.

Writing notes on Staff (Stave)

 Note that when we are writing a music, we are trying to communicate with a reader and legibility is therefore important. Although we can use software package like Sibelius, MuseScore, Finale etc. But when we are writing staff notation by hand on our music manuscript, we need to be guided to make our music legible for our readers. There must must be orderliness in writing of musical notes on the stave so as to make the reading and playing of music easy.

When only one part (or voice) is written on the staff, the following rules must be applied: 
(1) The head of the notes must be properly placed on the line or in the space.
(2) If the note head is below the third line; the stem must turn up.
(3) If the note-head is above the third line the stem must turn down.
(4) If the note -head is on the third line the stem is turned either up or down with due regard to the symmetrical appearance of the measure in which the note occurs.
(5) Upward and downward stem is written to the right side of the head and 
(6) Ensure stems are properly join to their note-heads and hooks (tail) to their head

Notes with flag that are more than one and appears next to each other can also be connected to each other with a beam (sometimes called a ligature), instead of each note getting a flag. This is really another, more organized-looking incarnation of the flag. Using beams instead of individual flags on notes is simply a case of trying to clean up an otherwise messy-looking piece of musical notation. 
 Readability can be improved by replacing the flags with beams that join the notes together into a grouping. Single flags are replaced with single beams, double flags are replaced with double beams and so on.


Notes and Beat Counting

When counting out beats, you only count as high as the highest-valued note in a selection.

Semibreve (Whole Note)

If you were to see a line of whole notes, you would count them out like this:
CLAP two three four - CLAP two three four - CLAP two three four.
“CLAP” means you clap your hands for one beat, and “two-three-four” is what you say out loud as the note is held for four beats.

Minim (Half Note)

A half note is held for half as long as a whole note. When you count out the half notes it sounds like this:
CLAP two - CLAP two - CLAP two
“CLAP” means you clap your hands for one beat, and “two” is what you say out loud as the note is held for two beats.

Crotchet (Quarter Note)

Divide a whole note (worth four beats) by four, and you get a quarter note with a note value of one beat.
Four quarter notes are counted out like this:
CLAP – CLAP - CLAP - CLAP
Because the highest valued note is a quarter note, you would only count up to one. “CLAP” means you clap your hands for one beat.

  

Quaver (Eighth Notes)

An eighth note has a value of half of a quarter note. Eight eighth notes would last as long as one whole note, which means an eighth note last half a beat (in 4/4, or common, time).

Eighth notes can be counted out like this:
Tap your toe for the beat and clap your hands twice for every toe tap.
CLAP-CLAP CLAP-CLAP CLAP-CLAP CLAP-CLAP
Or you can count it out as follows:
ONE-and TWO-and THREE-and FOUR-and
The numbers represent four beats, and the “ands” are the half beats.

NOTES: To master the beat counting, do not mind the speed and focus more on the accuracy. You can also use a metronome to set a pace for yourself.

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