Today we will learn how to deal with note duration. Mastering this lesson will give you more control in many aspects of music production because musicians and producers are dealing with note duration all the time.
Note duration means basically how long a sound will last. Let’s start with four music notes, as seen below:
A whole note is the longest note duration in modern music.The whole note has a duration of 4 beats, meaning that if you turn on a metronome, for example, you hold a note during 4 metronome beats. Hear the example below:
You can count from 1 to 4 while hold a whole note.
That’s how to write it using music notation:
All other note durations will be defined by how long they last compared to a whole note.
The half note lasts half as long as a whole note – that is, the half note will have the duration of 2 beats. If you turn on a metronome, hold a half note for 2 beats:
The quarter note (4th) will last 1 beat. Compared to the whole note, it will last a quarter of it. With the metronome on, hold the quarter note for 1 beat:
The next note duration is the eighth note (8th). The easiest way to understand it is comparing it to the quarter note. It means that the eighth note lasts the half of a quarter note. If you turn the metronome on, you notice that you can play two 8th notes in the duration of a quarter note:
There’s also the sixteenth note (16th):
Its duration is half of an eighth note. Notice that you can play four 16th notes in a beat:
The following image is a useful tool to understand note duration:
So, in the same duration of a whole note we can play 2 half notes, or 4 quarter notes, or 8 eighth notes, or 16 sixteenth notes (that’s why they have these names!)
All step sequencers work using note durations, including acclaimed vintage gear such as the Roland TR808:
Notice that there are 4 groups of 4 colored buttons at the bottom (red, orange, yellow and white buttons), numbered from 1 to 16. Each button works as a 16th note by default. If you light buttons number 1, 5, 9 and 13 and set a kick drum sample to them, it will work as a 4/4 beat. If you add a hi-hat on buttons 1,3,5,7,9,11,13,15, and a snare on buttons 5 and 13, it will sound like this:
That’s how we write it using music notation:
So, use this knowledge to program any kind of step sequencer, be it a hardware model or a software plugin.
That’s it! In the next lesson, we will learn how to write and identify a few more beats and grooves, as well as add other note duration.