In Part 1 of this series we discussed the anatomy of the staff and various types of notes and rests that you’ll encounter when reading music. This time we’ll learn how to play and rest for whole-, half-, and quarter-note durations. Be sure to use Part 1 as a reference as you progress throughout the rest of this lesson.

If you have a metronome, now is the time to break it out. A great starting tempo for these exercises is around 60 bpm (beats per minute). If you don’t have a metronome, try using the second hand on a clock—which ticks at a rate of one beat per second—or simply practice the exercises at a moderately slow tempo. Let’s dig in!

Counting Out Loud

As drummers, one of our jobs is to keep time. With that said, nothing helps you internalize the time quite like counting out loud while playing. That raises the question, “How do you count out loud?” If there are four beats in a measure, you’ll be counting out loud to “four” on each pulse while playing the notation. When you perform, music doesn’t stop if you lose your place. By learning to count out loud now, and silently later, you’ll always know where you are in the music even if you make a mistake.


The notes we’re going to learn in this lesson are meant to sustain for a specific duration of musical time. However, most drums can’t sustain note durations in the same way that instruments like a piano or guitar can hold out a note. That being said, it’s quite common for percussion students to sing the notes for their full duration when learning to read. Simply singing “dah” for each note’s duration is a great place to start. However, you can also play the notes on your practice pad or drum and count out loud for the full duration of the note instead of singing.

Whole Notes and Whole-Note Rests

Whole notes and whole-note rests last for four quarter-note beats. Exercise 1 is in 4/4, which means that there are four quarter-note beats per measure. If you were playing a whole note while counting each measure out loud as “one, two, three, four,” you’d strike the drum on beat 1, and it would last for the entire duration of those four counts.

Let’s practice this by counting “one, two, three, four” out loud along with a metronome and hitting a drum or practice pad on count “one” of the measure. If you have a metronome or want to tap your foot, try singing a syllable such as “dah” for the length of all four beats as well. A whole-note rest lasts for the same amount of time, except that you’d remain silent for the length of four beats instead of playing on beat 1. We’ll practice both playing and resting for a whole note, one after the other, in the following two-measure example.

Half Notes and Half-Note Rests

Half notes and half-note rests each last for a duration of two quarter notes. We can fit two half notes, two half-note rests, or one of each in a measure of 4/4. Let’s practice playing a few combinations of half notes and half-note rests. Count out loud at all times, or tap your foot along with a metronome while singing the duration of the notes. Remember that while you’re silent for a half-note rest, two full beats will pass from the metronome, your foot, or your counts.

Quarter Notes and Quarter-Note Rests

In 4/4, quarter notes and quarter-note rests last for one beat or pulse. This opens up many musical combinations of notes and rests within a 4/4 measure. Furthermore, you’ll notice that for every beat in the measure, you’ll now be playing or resting. Continue to tap your foot, use a metronome, and count out loud.

Putting It All Together

Now we’ll combine the notation that we’ve learned so far. Remember to take these exercises slowly, use a metronome to help you keep time, and count out loud when playing the following examples.

Feel free to create your own exercises with any combination of these notes, as long as the patterns add up to four quarter-note beats per measure. Remember, music notation is divided into measures. The time signature will always tell you how many beats are in each measure. And no matter what, all time must be accounted for within that measure with the correct number of either notes or rests.

Next time we’ll dive into reading and counting 8th notes and 8th-note rests.