"Songwriting and the Creative Process"
An Internet Tutorial

Lesson 8. Time - The Duration of Notes and Rests


The final aspect of musical notation has to do with the duration of the note. The symbol for a musical tone is a note. The symbol for a pause or silence between notes is a rest.

The time signature is written as a fraction in the first bar of a song. The top number, the numerator, shows the number of notes of a given time value contained in each measure and the bottom number, the denominator shows the kind of note the top number is based on.

The total of notes and rests in one measure must be equal to the fraction of the time signature. If a song is in four/four time, this means that there are the equivalent of four quarter notes per measure.

In a waltz, there are three quarter notes in each bar and the time signature is 3/4.

A whole note is held for the full duration of one bar of 4/4. Six eighth notes or 6/8, and two quarter notes or 2/4 are also common time signatures.

The "shuffle" is a common rhythm form and is in 6/8 time. So many songs in the rhythm and blues and country music tradition are shuffles including many of Elvis Presley's hits, like "Teddy Bear", and "Now and Then, There's a Fool Such As I."

Rests are the quiet spaces that occur in music and are also divided and added together in the same way;

A note can be held through a longer time by being tied to another note. Rests also can be combined for longer pauses.

A note can begin at the end of one measure and be tied over into the next or beyond. A dot next to a note means that it is held for half-again its normal time.

This course is based on materials from the book, "Songwriting and the Creative Process" by Steve Gillette. Published by Sing Out! Press. Used by permission.

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