Color Scheme:                        



a free online guide to music theory






Rhythm and Tempo

This page is currently set to show (click to change):

   All Terms       US Terms Only       UK Terms Only


Exam syllabus:

All    1   

(US) AP Music Theory       

(UK) ABRSM Grade:    1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8   
(UK) Trinity Grade:    1    2    4    4    5    6    7    8   




Rhythmic Values

Rhythm is one of the most important parts of modern music notation and is a fundamental part of music theory.
Rhythmic lengths are usually represented by differences in the head or tail of a note.
Note Head and Note Tail

The longest rhythmic value used today is the Breve (Double whole note).
The term 'Breve' actually comes from the Latin word 'Brevis', meaning short.
Until the 15th century it was one of the shortest rhythmic values, but the printing of music caused changes in music notation.

The breve can be notated in different ways, the most modern of which is shown first.
The other two may be encountered in old scores.

Rhythmic Notation: Breve

A breve/double whole-note can be split in to two parts of equal lengths, called Semibreves/Whole notes

The longest rhythmic value encountered at grade is the semibreve.

The notation for a semibreve(whole note)is:
Rhythmic Notation: Semibreve

Semibreves/Whole notes can be spilt in to two smaller values of equal length.
These are known as Minims/Half Notes. Their notation is:
Rhythmic Notation: Minim

The rhythmic values can be further split in to two smaller values of equal length:
Rhythmic Notation: Crotchet

A Minim/Half Note can be split in to two Crotchets/Quarter Notes.



Rhythmic Notation: Quaver

A Crotchet/Quarter Note can be split in to two Quavers/Eighth Notes.



Rhythmic Notation: Semiquaver

Crotchet/Quarter Note can be split in to two Semiquavers/Sixteenth Notes.




A hierarchy of rhythmic durations with relation to each other has been established:
breve, semibreve, minim, crotchet, quaver, semiquaver

The semiquaver can be split further in half:
Rhythmic Notation: Demisemiquaver

A Semiquaver/Sixteenth Notecan be split in to two Demisemiquavers/Thirty-Second Notes.



Shorter rhythmic values than the Demisemiquaver/Thirty-second Noteare rarely used, but they may be encountered in more advanced theory work.
Prefixes are added in the order of semi-, demi- and then hemi. eg. hemidemisemiquaver, then semihemidemisemiquaver.
The durations countinue to halve in size: Sixty-fourth Note, One-hundred-and-twenty-eighth note...





Candidates for more advanced theory papers are often required to know terms also in Italian, French and German.
Here are the Italian, French and German names for the rhythmic durations:

(f. for feminine, m. for masculine, n. for neuter)

English (UK) English (US) Italian French German
Breve Double Whole Note Breve (f.) Bréve (f.)
or carrée (f.)
Doppletaktnote (m.)
Semibreve Whole Note Semibreve (f.) or Intero (m.) Ronde (f.) Ganze Taktnote (m),
abr. 'Ganze' (f.)
Minim Half Note Minima (f.) or Metá (f.)
or Bianca (f.)
Blanche (f.) Halbe Taktnote (m.),
abr. 'Halbe' (f.)
Crotchet Quarter Note Semiminima (f.) or Nera (f.)
or Quarto (m.)
Noire (f.) Viertel (f.)
Quaver Eighth Note Croma (f.) or Ottavo (m.) Croche (f.) Achtel (f.)
Semiquaver Sixteenth Note Semicroma (f.) or sedicesimo (m.) Double croche (f.) Sechzehntel (f.)
Demisemiquaver Thirty-Second Note Biscroma (f.) or Trentaduesimo (m.) Triple Croche (f.) Zweiunddreißigstel (f.)






Rests

Each rhythmic value has an equivalent rest, representing a period of silence.
The rhythmic values and their equivalent rests are shown below:

Breve/Double whole-note Rest:

Breve/Double Whole Note Rest

Semibreve/Whole-note Rest:

Semibreve/Whole Note Rest

Minims/Half Note Rest:

Minim/Half Note Rest

Minims/Half Note Rest:

Crotchet/Quarter Note Rest

Quaver/Eighth Note Rest:

Quaver/Eighth Note Rest

Semiquaver/Sixteenth Note Rest:

Semiquaver/Sixteenth Note Rest

A list of English, Italian, French and German names for the rests:

(f. for feminine, m. for masculine, n. for neuter)

English (UK) English (US) Italian French German
Breve Rest Double Whole Note Rest Pausa di breve (f.) Pause de brève (f.)
or bâton (m.)
Doppel Pause (m.)
Semibreve Rest Whole Note Rest Pausa di semibreve (f.) Pause (f.) Ganze Pause (f.)
Minim Rest Half Note Rest Pausa di minima (f.) Demi-pause (f.) Halbe Pause (f.)
Crotchet Rest Quarter Note Rest Pausa di semiminima (f.) Soupir (m.) Viertelpause (f.)
Quaver Rest Eighth Note Rest Pausa di croma (f.) Semi-soupir (m.) Achtelpause (f.)
Semiquaver Rest Sixteenth Note Rest Pausa di semicroma (f.) Quart de soupir (f.) Sechzehntelpause (f.)
Demisemiquaver Rest Thirty-Second Note Rest Pausa di biscroma (f.) Huitième de soupir (f.) Zweiunddreißigstelpause (f.)


A whole bar's rest is always represented by the semibreve rest, no matter the time signature.
Except for when there is eight beats in the bar:

Whole Bar's Rest

Several Bars rest can be represented, usually in part scores for an ensemble, with the following symbol and a number above.

Several Bars Rest






Tied Notes

Two or more notes can be tied together to combine their lengths; notes can be tied over the bar line.


notes can be tied or dotted to increase their lengths
Dotted Notes

Notes can be lengthened by adding a dot after the note-head, which increases the note's value by half.
Similarly, adding two dots after the note-head increases the note's value by three quarters:


Double Dotted Semibreve/Whole-note:

Dotted Semibreve Whole Note

Double Dotted Minims/Half Note:

Dotted Minim Half Note

Double Dotted Crotchet/Quarter Note:

Dotted Crotchet Quarter Note

Double Dotted Quaver/Eighth Note:

Dotted Quaver Eighth Note




Dotted Semibreve/Whole-note:

Dotted Semibreve Whole Note

Dotted Minims/Half Note:

Dotted Minim Half Note

Dotted Crotchet/Quarter Note:

Dotted Crotchet Quarter Note

Dotted Quaver/Eighth Note:

Dotted Quaver Eighth Note



Rests can be dotted too, but don't get tied. The dot for a rest is always placed on the third space of the stave.
(Execptions to this include when there are multiple voices on one stave)
Dotted Rests

Fermatas
A fermata written above a note can be used to indicate that a note should be held on for longer than the written duration or with a pause afterwards:

Fermenta

A short fermata can be inidated by:

Short Fermenta

A long fermata can be indicated by:

Long Fermenta

Although the normal fermata is much more common.






Bars/Measures

A Bar/Measure is a period of time that is assigned a rhythmic duration.
A Bar/Measure is enclosed by a line through all lines of the stave, a 'barline':

Italian: Battuta/una misura     French: Une mesure     German: Takt (masculine)

Bar Line

A double barline is used before key changes and in a few other circumstances:

Italian: Barra/Linea     French: Double barre de mesure/barre de séparation     German: Doppeltaktstrich (masculine)

Double Bar Line

A 'final' bar line is used to indicate the end of a piece.

Italian: Barra finale     French: Double barre de fin     German: Schlussstrich (masculine)

Final Bar Line

Sections of music can be repeated though the use of repeat bar lines.

Italian: La ripetizione     French: Barre de reprise     German: Wiederholungszeichen (neutral)

Start Repeat:

Start Repeat Bar Line

End Repeat:

Start Repeat Bar Line

SimpleTime Signtuares


The duration of a bar/measureis notated by a 'time signature'.
Time signatures consist of two numbers:

The lower number indicates a rhythmic duration:

2 is a Minim/Half Note
4 is a Quarter Note/Crotchet
8 is a Quaver/Eighth note
16 is a Semiquaver/Sixteenth note
32 is a Demisemiquaver/Thirty-second note

The number above shows how many of them there are in a bar.

The key sigature is positioned at the start of the score after the clef and key signature:

Time Signture Position on the Stave

Music that has two beats (of any rhythmic duration) is said to be in "duple time".
That with three beats is in "triple time", with four beats in "quadruple time" and so on.

Simple Duple Time

a simple time signature is 2/2, this means that each bar is the length of 2 minims/half notes

  Each bar is the length of 2 Minims/Half Notes.
  2/2 is sometimes used for marches and often in musical theatre scores.


a simple time signature is 2/4, this means that each bar is the length of 3 crotchets/quarter notes

  Each bar is the length of 2 Crotchets/Quarter Notes.
  2/4 is commonly used for marches and other forms such as the Polka.



Simple Triple Time

a simple time signature is 3/2, this means that each bar is the length of 2 minims/half notes

  Each bar is the length of 3 Minims/Half Notes.
  3/2 is not that commonly used.


a simple time signature is 3/4, this means that each bar is the length of 3 crotchets/quarter notes

  Each bar is the length of 3 Crotchets/Quarter Notes.
  3/4 is commonly used for waltzes, minuets, scherzo (pl. scherzi ).


a simple time signature is 3/8, this means that each bar is the length of 4 minims/half notes

  Each bar is the length of 3 Quavers/Eighth Notes.
  3/8 is commonly used for waltzes, minuets, scherzi.



Simple Quadruple Time

a simple time signature is 4/2, this means that each bar is the length of 4 minims/half notes

  Each bar is the length of 4 Minims/Half notes.
  4/2 is not commonly used.


a simple time signature is 4/4, this means that each bar is the length of 4 crotchets/quarter notes

  Each bar is the length of 4 Crotchets/Quarter Notes.
  The time signature 4/4 is the most common used in all of western classical and pop music.


IrregularTime Signtuares


Given their irregularity, Irregular Time Signatures crop up suprisingly regularly on more advanced theory papers, but understanding them is exactly the same as all of the other time signatures.

an irregular time signature is 5/4, this means that each bar is the length of 5 crotchets/quarter notes

  Each bar is the length of 5 Crotchets/Quarter Notes.


an irregular time signature is 5/8, this means that each bar is the length of 5 quavers/eighth notes

  Each bar is the length of 5 Quavers/Eighth Notes.


an irregular time signature is 7/4, this means that each bar is the length of 7 crotchets/quarter notes

  Each bar is the length of 7 Crotchets/Quarter Notes.


an irregular time signature is 7/8, this means that each bar is the length of 7 quavers/eighth notes

  Each bar is the length of 7 Quavers/Eighth Notes.



Note that the time signature only indicates the length of one bar, there can be many different rhythmic durations within.
A bar of 4/4 could contain, for example: 2 minims or 4 crotchets or 8 quavers or 16 semiquavers.

Usually the first beat of each bar is the strongest:


In 4/4: Strong Beat Weak Beat Weak Beat Weak Beat or in 3/4: Strong Weak Weak

Sometimes the symbols below are used to represent time signatures of 4/4 and 2/4 respectively. Due to the fact that they resemble the letter "C", they are often referred to as 'common time' and 'cut common time', but they actually originate from 15th century (renaissance) time signatures - shown below.


common time signature

  This 'Common Time' Symbol represents a time signature of 4/4.


cut common time signature

  This 'Cut Common Time' Symbol represents a time signature of 2/2.



renaissance time signatures



Time Signatures can be changed by writing a new time signature at the start of a bar/measure:

Changing time signatures




CompoundTime Signatures

In simple time each beat could be divided in to two:


Simple Time

Compound time is the name given when the beat divides in to 3 (or sometimes more)
Each 'simple' time signature has an equivalent 'compound' time signature.

compound time
We can convert a simple time signature in to an equivalent compound one by multiplying the top number by 3 and the bottom by 2.
To convert a compound time signature in to an equivalent simple one, divide the top number by 3 and the bottom by 2.

Compound Duple

Compound Time Signature: 6/4

  Each bar is the length of 6 crotchets/quarter notes.
  The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 2/2.


Compound Time Signature: 6/8

  Each bar is the length of 6 quavers/eighth notes.
  The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 2/4.


Compound Triple

Compound Time Signature: 9/4

  Each bar is the length of 9 crotchets/quarter notes.
  The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 3/2.


Compound Time Signature: 9/8

  Each bar is the length of 6 quavers/eighth notes.
  The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 3/4.


Compound Quadruple

Compound Time Signature: 12/4

  Each bar is the length of 12 crotchets/quarter notes.
  The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 4/2.


Compound Time Signature: 12/8

  Each bar is the length of 6 quavers/eighth notes.
  The equivalent Simple Time Signauture is 4/4.





Beams

Two or more quavers can be beamed together to form groups:

Quavers can be beamed together to form groups of 2 or 4 in simple time
The same is true for semiquavers and even shorter rhythmic values:

Semiquavers can also be beamed together to form groups of 2 or 4
Quavers can also be beamed together with semiquavers:

semiquaver beams

Shorter rhythmic values can be beamed together in similar ways:

Short rhythmic values beams

Beams can go up or down depending on their position on the stave.

Note-heads that are above the third line on the stave always go downwards and those that are below the third line go upwards. Note-heads on the third line may go either way, but usually follow the beams of neighbouring notes.

beams above the third line on the stave go upwards

beams below the third line on the stave go downwards
notes on the middle line of the stave can do upwards or downwards   notes on the middle line of the stave usually follow the melodic contour
There are some simple rules to follow when grouping notes:

In simple time:

Notes the length of quavers or shorter should be beamed together and avoid ties where possible.

In compound time:

Notes should be grouped to show where the beat is.







Tuplets


In compound time, each beat was split in to three or more sub-beats. We can also do this in simple time by using tuplets. The most common type of tuplet is the triplet , where the beat splits in to three parts as shown below. Notice the 3 and 6 written above groups of notes - in passages of continuous tuplets these numbers are sometimes omitted.
a note can also split in to other values, such as 7 or 13, by using tuplets.
In the same way that triplet quavers together last the same rhythmic value as a crotchet, tripet semiquavers together last the same rhythmic value as a quaver and so on.
A beat can be split in to many different smaller divisions, some examples are shown below:

complex tuplets
In compound time, we can use tuplets to divide the beat in to two (like simple time), or other values than 3. For example:
compound time tuplets  can split the beat in to two instead of three

By using tuplets, we can write things in simple time in compound time and vice versa.





Tempo


A time signature shows the number of beats in each bar/measureTempo is the name given to the speed of these beats.
It is usually given in 'beats per minute' (or BPM).

eg. 80 Crotchet Beats Per Minute.
Crotchet = 80 means 80 Crotchet beats per minute
Sometimes composers give a tempo marking in words, usually in Italian, to specify an approximate tempo.

eg. 'Moderato' (Moderately) indicates a tempo around 100 beats per minute.
'Allegro' (Quickly) would indicate a tempo around 120 beats per minute.


A list of terms like this can be found in our Musical Theory Dictionary section by clicking here .




Rhythmic Devices


Syncopation

Syncopation is the name given to a rhythmic contradiction in which the strong beat beat falls in an otherwise unexpected place.
Some examples are given below:

Suspended Syncopation:
Suspended Syncopation

Accented Syncopation:
Accented Syncopation

Missing Note Syncopation:
Missing Note Syncopation

Anacrusis

An Anacrusis is the name given to a note/notes that preceed the downbeat.
For example, happy birthday:
anacrusis







Like this page?

Why not link to it from your website or blog? Here's the HTML:

Homepage link:

<a href="http://www.musictheoryhelp.co.uk"> Music Theory Guide </a>

This artice link:

<a href="http://www.musictheoryhelp.co.uk/fundamentals/1/rhythmandtempo"> Rhythm and Tempo Guide </a>

(If you link to us and are writing about something relevant to one of our guides, we'll link back!)

Don't have your own website or blog?
Why not recommend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter?









External Links
Further Theory Reading:

Also in the Music Theory Guide:



Do you have a question about Rhythm and Tempo?
Email us your questions to us at musictheoryhelp.co.uk@gmail.com , or contact us via Twitter @musictheoryhelp.
More Details can be found in the Contact Seciton.




Top of Page






musictheoryhelp.co.uk Sitemap