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How to Read Sheet Music: Note Types

Updated on May 29, 2012

In order to play an instrument, most of the time you will need to be able to read sheet music. What do those mystical lines and dots mean, and how do they correspond to musical notes? Here I will go over the different types of notes and what they indicate.

Also take a look at How to Read Sheet Music: The Basics and How to Read Sheet Music: Notes.

Whole Note

Appearance: open oval with no stem

Beats: 4*

*This is assuming a time signature with a 4 in the denominator. If it is an 8 instead, double the beats.

Rest Equivalent Appearance: bar below line (sometimes thought of as hole)

Half Note

Appearance: open oval with stem

Beats: 2

Rest Equivalent Appearance: bar resting on line (sometimes thought of as a hat)

Quarter Note

Appearance: filled-in oval with stem

Beats: 1

Rest Equivalent Appearance: squiggle (almost like a 'z' with a 'c' attached to the bottom)

Eighth Note

Appearance: filled-in oval with stem and one flag*

*When two notes with flags are adjacent to one another, the flags will often be replaced by a beam connecting the tops of the stems. Notes can be connected until the value of the group of notes equals 1 or 2 beats.

Beats: 1/2

Rest Equivalent Appearance: sort of a backwards 'r'

Sixteenth Note

Appearance: filled-in oval with stem and two flags

Beats: 1/4

Rest Equivalent Appearance: like an eighth rest except with two branches off the stem

Thirty-Second Note

Appearance: filled-in oval with stem and three flags

Beats: 1/8

Rest Equivalent Appearance: like an eighth rest except with three branches off the stem


Appearance: three notes connected with a beam or a bracket with a 3 written above the central note

Beats: double the beats that the note type would normally be*

*Example: a triplet consisting of eighth notes would be 1 beat (2 x 1/2 = 1)


Appearance: a small period-like dot located to the right of a note

Beats: adds to the beats of the note by 1/2 the note's normal beats*

*Example: a dotted half note is worth 3 beats (2 + (1/2 x 2) = 2 + 1 = 3)

Rest Equivalent Appearance: dot next to the equivalent rest


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    • faustferdinand profile image

      Faust Ferdinand Eusebio 

      5 years ago from Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines

      Most guitar students feel that they don't need to learn how to read music. By reading music, some skills are unlocked because they are now dependent on sound rather than techniques.

    • ccornblatt profile imageAUTHOR

      Cassidy Cornblatt 

      6 years ago

      Thanks! Same here. Basic theory certainly helps when it comes to playing.

    • Fromadistance profile image


      6 years ago

      very informative.. i could've really used this back in the day ahha


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