Note Value & Different Types of Counting
In this first section of the series Music Theory Simplified, I will be covering note value and the different types of counting as it relates to different time signatures. I will explain in detail three of these time signature examples below. They are 4/4, 3/4 and 2/4 which are common time signatures.
In 4/4 time Whole notes have a value of 4 beats per measure, which equates to 4 ticks on the metronome.
The Half note has a value of 2 beats/metronome ticks, and 2 Half notes equate to 1 Whole note, and each of them is played once and counted twice.
Quarter notes occur more frequently than both Half notes and Whole notes because it takes 2 Quarter notes to equate to 1 Half note and 4 Quarter notes to equate 1 Whole note.
Whole notes are played once and receive a count of 1, 2, 3, 4.
Half notes are played once and receive a count of 1, 2, and when a second Half note is added the second Half note is played once, but counted as 3, 4.
Unlike Whole and Half notes, every Quarter note is played and every strum is counted 1, 2, 3, 4.
Eighth notes are birds of a slightly different feather when it comes to the way they are counted. The 4 count is still alive and well, but in the case where we are dealing strictly with Eighth notes, the count will be 1 & 2 & 3 & 4, which means 7 Eighth notes are needed to equate 1 Whole note. An extra Eighth note could be added to make the count 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &, which gives us 8 Eighth notes which equal to 1 Whole note and 1 Eighth note.
There is even more of a difference in how Sixteenth notes are counted. It takes 16 Sixteenth notes to equate to 1 Whole note. Sixteenth notes are counted as 1 e & a, 2 e & a, 3 e & a, 4 e & a.
Once note value is understood at a basic fundamental level, recognizing that rest/silence symbols have the same value isn’t all that difficult. Whole, Half, Quarter, Eighth and Sixteenth rests have the same value as Whole, Half, Quarter, Eighth and Sixteenth notes.
In 3/4 time we also have different variations of counting. For example, 3 Quarter notes can be used for a 1, 2, 3 count. A Half note can be used with a Quarter note to produce a 1, 2 – 3 count, which means that the Half note is played once but receives 2 beats/ticks and then the Quarter note is played receiving 1 beat/tick. Eighth notes are counted as 1 & 2 & 3 if we are solely using Eighth notes otherwise the count will vary ever so slightly. Sixteenth notes are counted as 1 e & a, 2 e & a, 3 e & a, if we are only using Sixteenth notes, otherwise, just as with Eighth notes the count will vary a bit.
In 2/4 time we could opt for using only Half notes or Quarter notes, which would make things a little bit too predictable. So, in the interest of making the music really come alive, we could sprinkle in some Eighth notes as well as some Sixteenth notes. As with the other preceding time signatures, the Half note receives 2 beats/ticks. We will still need 2 Quarter notes to equate 1 Half note. At this point, we either have a 1, 2 count with the Half note being played once and counted twice, or we have 2 Quarter notes that get played as you count them.
Eighth and Sixteenth notes all get played as you count them. In the case where we are only using Eighth notes, the count will be 1 & 2 or 1 & 2 &. When using only Sixteenth notes, the count will be 1 e & a, 2 e & a.
4/4 time: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1 & 2 & 3 & 4, 1, 2, 3 & 4, 1 e & a, 2 e & a, 3, 4.
3/4 time: 1, 2, 3, 1 & 2 & 3, 1, 2 & 3, 1 e & a, 2 e & a, 3.
2/4 time: 1, 2, 1 & 2, 1 & 2 &, 1 e & a, 2 e & a.
The count variations in the preceding time signatures can also be used when trying to work out strumming/picking patterns.