How To Read Music.


New member
I figured it might help some of our members if we had a thread devoted to how to read music.

It's easy, and learning how to read music will give players access to all sorts of information that would otherwise be inaccessible.

I figure I'd start off with a basic primer on note values:

This represents visually the length of notes in relation to each other. Notice that each further subdivision is half of the division above it.

The name of the subdivision relates to how many of a given note will fit in a measure of 4/4.

A measure of 4/4 consists of 4 counts, each count a quarter note in length. The first number indicates how many beats are in the measure, and the second note indicates which note is one count long. To give you a further idea of how this works, 6/8 indicates that there are 6 beats to a measure, and an 8th note gets one count.

Please post in the thread if you have questions and I will do my best to answer them.


New member
I find that being able to count something out loud can be of immense value when it comes to understanding a rhythm. The same is true when one is trying to learn what the different note values present on written music represent when played.

Following is basically what exists in the last post, but with counting syllables written underneath the notes.

I would advise using a metronome and counting the syllables out loud. Because we're in the 4/4 time signature, a quarter note will get one click of the metronome, and there will be 4 clicks per measure.

Against the click, the note values will break down like this:

whole note = 4 clicks
half note = 2 clicks
quarter note = 1 click
eighth note = 2 per click
sixteenth note = 4 per click
thirty-second note = 8 per click (notice that 32nd notes are counted the same as 16th notes, but 2 notes are played per count)



New member
i dont know if you mentioned it or not, but lots of practice reading rythms helps, its good practice to start off clapping the rythms


New member
I mentioned the counting out loud part. I believe in vocally doing it as opposed to clapping it at first. I did a bit of work with south Indian classical music counting systems and singing the rhythms with their appropriate syllables really helped me internalize the length of the different notes. Then I would clap/play while vocalizing the syllables, finally I would clap or play without singing. Just remember, do it with a metronome. This will help bunches in understanding the divisions.

Next lesson: how to count slightly more complicated rhythms that are combinations of the above.

#1 is just a combination of 16th and 8th notes.

#2 is just quarter and 8th notes.

#3 is where it gets a little more interesting. It demonstrates how to count some rhythms that involve 16ths and 8th notes within the course of 1 beat. Think of these as 16th notes with some of the notes taken out. Look at the syllables and relate them to those used to count unbroken 16th notes. These syllables can cue you in as to which notes have been "left out".


New member
This exercise will teach you how to count and play some more involved figures. They are all based on taking a continuous stream of 16th notes and "leaving out" some of the notes. This exercise will also start to delve into how rests are used. With written music there will either be notes or rests for every count of a measure.

This exercise is also in 4/4 (4 counts to a measure, a quarter note [4 16th notes] gets one count).

See the two dots and lines at the beginning and end of every measure? Those indicate that the measure(s) in between should be repeated.

I have included the counting syllables under the rhythms. I included the syllables for the rests in parentheses to show how the rests "lay" in the rhythm.

I recommend both counting and playing these with the metronome.

Example 1 is just straight 16th notes.

Example 2 is the first two 16th notes of every beat, followed by an eighth note rest. Remember that an eighth note equals 2 16th notes, or half a quarter note(half a beat).

Example 3 will have you resting for the first 16th note, then playing the next two 16th notes, then resting on the last 16th note of every beat.

Example 4 involves resting for the first 2 16ths (equal to 1 8th note) of every beat, and playing the last 2 16th notes.

Example 5 will have you playing on the first and last 16th note division of every beat. Notice that the first note of the figure has a dot following it. This indicates that the note or rest is 1.5 times as long as the note or rest preceding it. This is true no matter what the note/rest length. The note in our example is an 8th note. An eighth note is two 16th notes long. A dotted eighth note is half again longer, making it take up the same amount of time as three 16th notes.

Example 6 involves playing on the first three 16th notes in every beat.

Example 7 involves resting on the beat and playing the last 3 16ths.

Example 8 is an eighth note followed by 2 16ths.

Example 9 will have you playing the first two 16th note divisions and the last, leaving out the 3rd one.



New member
Today we delve into triplets. These are some important citizens of the music world.

Basically, a triplet boils down to this: 3 evenly-spaced notes are put into the space that two would normally occupy. The examples are "lined up" in a way that will allow you to see how they fit into a quarter note pulse, represented on the first line below.

This will be very important in "feeling" the first triplet rhythm represented: the QUARTER NOTE TRIPLET. This little gem will possibly be some of you folks' first dip into polyrhythms. Basically, for every two clicks of the metronome, you will play 3 notes, evenly spaced. See how it works? You're playing 3 notes in the space of 2. You will only be playing on the click on counts 1 and 3.

This layering of 3 over 2 (or 2 over 3 for that matter) even has a name: the hemiola. If you've never done any work with polyrhythms before, welcome. This one's the grandaddy of them all.

Let me take a moment here to state that the vocal syllables used in counting triplets out loud are not nearly as established as those used to count 16ths, 8ths, quarter notes, etc. I've heard a bunch of variations. (1-la-le 2-la-le 3-la-le 4-la-le would be one.) You can look up some different syllables or you can use the ones provided. I chose to provide more than one set of syllables to emphasize that this is one area where things get a tad subjective. As long as you can "feel' the rhythm, that's the most important thing.

The second line of triplets are EIGHTH NOTE TRIPLETS. These li'l babies are one of the backbones of much music (jazz, blues, african rhythms all use this particular note division as a basis for feel). They are much easier than quarter note triplets, in that there are 3 eighth note triplets per quarter note (1 metronome click). 3 eighth note triplets take up the same amount of space as 2 eighth notes, same as 3 quarter note triplets take up the same amount of space as 2 quarter notes.

Finally, we come to 16th NOTE TRIPLETS. Notice how these have "6" written over the group rather than "3". This doesn't mean they're not triplets. Sometimes these are referred to as "sextuplets" because 6 of them will fit in the space of a quarter note (1 metronome click). They're still nothing more than triplets tho, twice as fast as eighth note triplets. They're quite easy to play, just play 6 notes evenly spaced per click.



New member
one really useful way to apply the above exercise and "feel" what you're reading would be to switch back and forth between quarters and triplets. I'd probably start out alternating between each triplet and quarter notes, and then end up working toward being able to play something like..

1 measure quarter notes
1 measure line 2 (quarter note triplets)
1 measure quarter notes
1 measure line 3 (8th note triplets)
1 measure quarter notes
1 measure line 4 (16th note triplets)

then back to the beginning and start again. Repeat repeat repeat until you feel it!


New member
Now , we will have more fun with counting/playing eighth-note triplet figures.

Here's the details:

Example 1, just like with the 16th note counting exercise, is an unbroken stream of 8th note triplets, and visually can provide a "matrix" to show where the notes in the other examples "lay". Use a ruler and lay it vertically on the paper.

Example 2 has you playing the first two notes of each triplet and resting on the third

Example 3, last two notes of each triplet and resting on the downbeats (the rest lies on the metronome click).

Example 4, first and last notes of each triplet, rest on the middle note. Notice that I wrote this as a quarter note and an eighth note instead of writing both as eighth notes and putting an eighth note rest in the middle. There is always more than one way to write any rhythm. This rhythm is the basis of the shuffle feel.

Example 5, is a bit more involved than the preceding examples. This rhythm consists of playing 3 notes, resting one, playing 3, resting one, etc. As there are three eighth note triplets per beat and 4 eighth notes per phrase , this causes the rhythm to "shift" in relation to the metronome. If you played only the first note of each 4-note group, you will end up with a half-note triplet. To further illustrate:

Example 6 has you playing a quarter note triplet for the first two beats, then shifting the rhythm over by 1 eighth note for the last two beats.

I'd recommend playing line 1, then line 2, back to line 1, then line 3, etc.


New member
Crash101":3hc5zkhi said:
i dont know if you mentioned it or not, but lots of practice reading rythms helps, its good practice to start off clapping the rythms

Your right but also reading is an essential.

I started reading the Metallica drum notes and man let me tell you that really improved my drumming.

Reading notation puts you on a whole different level musically.


New member
alright, let's get into time signatures.

Time signatures are easy as anything to understand. EASY.

Top number shows how many counts there are in the measure, the bottom shows which note length gets one count.

Following are several examples to illustrate this.


If the bottom number of the time signature is 4, a quarter note = 1 count
If the bottom number of the time signature is 8, an eighth note = 1 count
If the bottom number of the time signature is 16, a sixteenth note = 1 count
If the bottom number of the time signature is 2, a half note = 1 count
If the bottom number of the time signature is 1, a whole note = 1 count

and so on.

Next, let's address a common time feel that can be written two ways: the "swing" or "shuffle" feel. This can be expressed as 4/4 utilizing 8th note triplets, or as 12/8, where the count is 12 8th notes. It's exactly the same thing, expressed two different ways. This also points out an important lesson: there's sometimes more than one way to express exactly the same thing when it comes to written music, and there's more than one way to mentally approach the same rhythm.

Next up I'll showcase some elements and notations unique to drum music.


New member
Dude, real good job, can you please explain dotted notes? I think I saw them used in one of your explanations. I believe it was measure 5 of "involved figures".
Thanks dude, you are the shizzle!


New member
Wow, this is pretty much been the stuff that my drum teacher has nailed into my head for the past 8 months. This stuff isn't really "fun", but it's good to know.

Dotted notes count for 1 1/2 time the regular value. For example, 1 quarter note=2 half notes, but 1 dotted quarter note=3 half notes. Maybe someone can expand on that a little.


New member
@ Bong: yup, a dot makes ANYTHING (any note or rest) 1.5x as long.

thanks for the compliments, I aim to demonstrate some notation indigenous to drum music next.