Musical figures inside the stave

Music is something that goes beyond being able to play the right note; it depends on the rhythm, the silences and the duration of these notes. Thus, we must learn to distinguish the duration of the musical figures and their silences when we play with a 4/4 beat.

Instead of boring you with a longer article explaining the rest of the binary measures, if you learn this, you will be able to take out the other beats such as 2/4 and 6/8 by simple deduction. Likewise, the musical figures of the notes and their most common silences corresponding to this measure are included.

Musical figures: the compass unit

A measure within the music is the musical figure that is composed of several time units: a whole note, a half note, a quarter note, an eighth note or a sixteenth note. These are indicated at the beginning of the score or after a double bar when the composer wants us to change the beat within the same piece. A measure is a fraction that tells us how many different notes fit inside it, or the amount of musical figures that can complete it.

The specific time of a measure is determined by interpreting the numbers that appear in the fraction. Let us use as an example the 4/4 measure, the numerator, indicates the value of the basic pulse note of the music. Here we interpret that the numerator 4 indicates that it is a quarter of a time, therefore, it is a quarter note. While the denominator tells us how many of these notes appear in a measure (4). Therefore, the 4/4 beat is a musical figure where four quarter notes appear.

There are different types of measures; depending on whether they are classified by forms: binary, ternary and quaternary. Or if they are classified according to the binary or ternary division of each pulse, simple compasses (binary subdivision) and complexes (ternary subdivision) arise.

The 4/4 beat

Throughout the history of music, different types of measures have emerged, among which we can highlight the 9/8 beat, the 3/4 beat, the 6/8 beat and the 2/4 beat. However, of all of them, the 4/4 measure is one of the most used today.

As we had seen in the example of how to interpret the meaning of a measure, we know that a 4/4 measure represents a musical figure where there are four quarter notes. However, it is not mandatory that all notes are quarter notes, but combinations of musical figures that result in 4 times can be used:

1 half note + 2 quarter notes = 4 times

2 quarter notes + 4 eighth notes = 4 times

8 sixteenth notes + 4 eighth notes = 4 times, etc.

The combinations can be made much more complex, depending on the intention that the composer had when creating the piece. But no matter how complex it is, as long as you know the musical figures corresponding to their notes and silences you will not have problems.

The time values of the notes and their silences

Knowing the value of each musical figure is necessary for any musician, because learned correctly you can apply them to any measure. Therefore, if you did not know the values of the previous musical figures, here is a short guide on the most important ones.

First we must start by determining which part of the measure is what determines its amount of time. This is the denominator, that is, the lower number. Here you have to think about the values of the notes and their silences, not the measure. Each one has its own value:

Whole note


This musical figure is represented on the pentagram in the shape of a circle. Its duration is equal to that of four quarter notes, that is, four times, covering all available times in a 4/4 measure. Therefore, once it is included, no other musical figure would fit the compass. The silence value corresponding to this note, as for the following ones, will be the same as its duration.

Half note


A half note is half of a whole note: two times. Therefore, it can be combined with another half note, two quarter notes or other minor notes, as long as the sum of these is equal to two times. It has the shape of an unadorned stem with a hollow oval shaped head. His silence is equal to two times.

Quarter note


A quarter note is the basic unit of time, being equal to one time. So it can be combined with whole notes and half note in a combination that completes the 4-beat measure. The shape of the quarter note is almost the same as that of the half note, only that the head is a black oval note. His silence is of a time.

Eighth note


It is represented using a stem and a bracket, its duration in a 4/4 measure is half of a quarter note. It can be combined with quarter and half notes, as long as it is fulfilled that the total sum will be 4 times. His silence is part time.

Sixteenth note


Its duration is a quarter of a time, half of a eighth note and has the shape of a black note with a stem and two square brackets. That is, to complete a 4/4 measure, 16 sixteenth notes are necessary. They can also be combined with half, quarter and eighth notes. His silence lasts a quarter of a time.

There are more musical figures and their silences, both superior (square, longa and maximum), as well as minor (demisemiquaver, hemidemisemiquaver, hundred twenty-eight note and two hundred fifty-sixth note). However, the superiors do not fit within the 4/4 measure and the latter are used rarely, since they require a level of fingering only attainable by really virtuous (God Level) musicians.

Did you find it difficult to learn the duration of the notes and their silences for the measure of four? We hope not and that with this knowledge you can take the measures of 2/4 and 6/8. Now you just have to practice a little more reading staves written in a 4/4 measure, so you never forget these musical figures.