Lesson 1: Sharps and Flats in New Rhythms

Chapter 3

Sixteenth Notes

Back in Lesson 2, we used money to think about how each rhythmic value is broken in half to create a smaller rhythmic value. You remember: The whole note was $1, and the half note was 50 cents, and we continued to break each rhythmic value in half until we got to the eighth note. Let's take another look:

  • Whole note = $1
  • Half note = 50 cents
  • Quarter note = 25 cents
  • Eighth note = 12 ½ cents

Now I'd like you to learn about an even smaller rhythmic value: the sixteenth note, which is half of one eighth note, or 6 ¼ cents.

Notice that when a single sixteenth note stands alone on the staff, it has two flags on the stem:

sheet music example
A single sixteenth note

But when sixteenth notes stand next to each other on the staff, they're connected with two bars.

sheet music example
Multiple sixteenth notes as they appear on the staff

In 4/4 time, you'd need 16 sixteenth notes to equal one complete measure. Why? Because four sixteenth notes equal one quarter note, and four quarter notes equal one complete measure. Confusing?

You've already seen a version of the following illustration in one of your assignments. This one, however, includes sixteenth notes. Each line of the five rhythmic values represents one complete measure of 4/4 time. Listen to the audio recording first, and then see if you can count and play with sixteenth notes too. Play the E1 string open, and stabilize your right hand by resting your thumb on the B2 string. Strive for consistent alternation between the index and middle fingers.

sheet music example
Exercise playing and counting all rhythmic values

The Language of Rhythm

When speaking in the language of sixteenth-note rhythms, we'd say that the lone eighth note in the measure above falls on the "&" of beat two. So then here's a question for you: Referring to the measure in the previous illustration, what rhythmic value falls on the "a" of beat one?

If you answered a sixteenth note, you'd be correct.

What about this question: What rhythmic value falls on beat two?

You'd be correct if you answered a sixteenth rest. Are you with me? I mean, do you dig?

As you play the exercise with sixteenth notes, remember that you can pull more harmony out of the music by letting some of the notes sustain past their rhythmic value.

Great work. Now you know how a sixteenth note rhythm works in music. In the next chapter, we're going to scale into scales!