In the last installment of this series we explored whole-note, half-note, and quarter-note durations. We learned that in 4/4 time, a whole note lasts for four beats, a half note for two beats, and a quarter note for one beat. In this lesson we’ll learn how to read 8th notes and 8th-note rests. Let’s dig in!
8th notes and 8th-note rests last for one half of a quarter note or quarter-note rest. As such, you can fit two 8th notes or rests in the same amount of space as one quarter note. Likewise, you can fit a total of eight 8th notes in a measure of 4/4. 8th notes are notated with a single flag, as demonstrated in the following example.
If there are two or more consecutive 8th notes notated together, they are typically connected by a beam.
Counting 8th Notes and 8th-Note Rests
In Part 2 of this series, we counted each beat (or pulse) of 4/4 by saying, “1, 2, 3, 4.” With the addition of 8th notes, we now have to subdivide each number, or beat, that we were counting before because there’s a new note between each pulse. We do this by using the word “and,” which is often written and referred to as “&” in musical notation. Our new method of counting will be, “1-&, 2-&, 3-&, 4-&.” Essentially, we’re dividing each pulse in half and counting the second half of each beat with “&.”
Let’s start out by counting out loud at a consistent tempo. Set a metronome to play quarter notes at a slow tempo, such as 60 bpm (beats per minute), and tap your foot along with each pulse. Every time you hear the metronome and tap your foot, say, “1,” “2,” “3,” and “4” consecutively, with one count per beat before repeating back to beat 1. Directly between each count, you’ll say the word “&.” When your foot goes down on the beat, say the whole number. When your foot goes up, say, “&.” It’s important to keep all of your counting perfectly even, meaning you maintain the same spacing between each count.
Playing 8th Notes and 8th-Note Rests
After you feel comfortable counting this subdivision, it’s time to start reading some preliminary 8th-note phrases. It’s essential that you count out loud and use a metronome while playing these exercises to help you internalize the beat and keep you honest. Remember that 8th notes can fall on the first half, second half, or both halves of a beat.
Playing Quarter Notes, 8th Notes, and 8th-Note Rests
After you’re comfortable counting and playing isolated 8th notes and 8th-note rests, combine them with the other note values that we’ve learned so far. In the following exercises we’ll combine 8th notes and quarter notes to practice alternating between both note rates. Even when playing quarter notes, you should continue to count the 8th notes out loud (“1-&, 2-&, 3-&, 4-&”) to internalize the subdivision’s pulse.
Next time, we’ll start digging into 16th notes.