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Learn to subdivide with eighth and sixteenth notes

eighth and sixteenth notes

The eighth note and sixteenth note are two examples of subdivision. Subdivided rhythms are rhythms that happen inside of 1 beat, as opposed to the quarter note, half note, and whole note which happen across more than 1 beat.

Subdivisions have their own special means of counting and since there are more notes written on a page, can look more intimidating. However, subdivisions like eighth notes and sixteenth notes are not always fast. It all depends on the tempo or speed of the piece of music. Read on more for information about eighth notes and sixteenth notes!

What are eighth notes?

The eighth note is a type of rhythm that receives ½ of a count. One eighth note looks like a closed note head with a stem and one flag attached to it. Two or more eighth notes can be beamed together using a single line. You will see groups of eighth notes beamed in groups of 2, 4 , and sometimes 6.

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A single eighth note symbol looks like this with one flag:

eighth note

A beamed eighth note symbol looks like this:

beamed eighth note

The combination of single and beamed eighth notes looks like this:

combination of single and beamed eighth notes

How to count eighth notes

Eighth notes receive ½ of a count. That means that it takes two eighth notes to equal one beat. Two eighth notes are equal to one quarter note. A single eighth note is one eighth the duration of a measure in 4/4 time. This is where the name eighth note comes from. We can easily count quarter notes like this with piano notes:

But we will need to add some more symbols in to account for the added beats of eighth notes. We use the symbol “+” and pronounce it “and” to account for eighth notes. In 4/4 time, we count eighth note symbols like this:

We pronounce these eighth note beats as “one and two and three and four and.” 

Practicing these rhythms like eighth note beats with the Skoove app will help you feel and play them better in time. With an interactive play-along system, practicing music with these rhythms with Skoove is almost as good as playing them with the metronome! By practicing with online piano lessons, you can improve your time feel while playing fun and exciting music at the same time!

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What are sixteenth notes?

Sixteenth notes are twice as fast as eighth notes. It takes 4 sixteenth notes to make 1 beat, which means that sixteenth notes are equal to ¼ of a count. It takes 8 sixteenth notes to make a half note. A single sixteenth note features a closed note head with a stem and two flags. Like eighth notes, sixteenth notes can be beamed into groups of 2, 3, 4, and sometimes 6. 

A single sixteenth note looks like this:

sixteenth note

It looks the same as an eighth note, with the exception of two flags instead of one.

Four beamed sixteenth notes looks like this:

Four beamed sixteenth notes

The combination of single and beamed sixteenth notes can look like this:

combination of single and beamed sixteenth notes

How to count sixteenth notes

Sixteenth notes are twice as fast as eighth notes, which means we have twice as many notes to count. Therefore, we need to add some more symbols. We use the letters “e” and “a” pronounced “ee” and “uh” to count sixteenth notes. Try practicing this rhythm using any of  the bass clef notes.

Here is how you count sixteenth note beats in 4/4 time:

We pronounce this as “1 – ee – and – uh – 2 – ee – and – uh – 3 – ee – and – uh – 4 – ee – and – uh.” You can compare the counting of eighth and sixteenth note beats like this:

See how the downbeats one, two, three and four and the “+” symbol all line up between the eighth note and sixteenth note?

Dotted eighth notes 

Just as we have the dotted half note and dotted quarter note, so too do we have a dotted eighth note and dotted sixteenth note. Remember that the dot adds ½ of the note value to the rhythm. Therefore, a dotted eighth note is equal to ¾ of a count. Since the eighth note receives ½ of a count and ½ of ½ is ¼, this means the dotted eighth note is equal to ½ + ¼, or ¾ of a count. Math is fun, right?

The dotted eighth note looks like this:

dotted eighth note

See the dot on the right side of the note? This is your cue. Try to practice this rhythm using any of the alto clef notes.

Dotted sixteenth notes

The dotted sixteenth note follows the same logic. Let’s do a little math to figure it out. The sixteenth note receives ¼ of a count. ½ of ¼ is ⅛. ¼ plus ⅛ equals ⅜. The dotted sixteenth note looks like this:

Dotted sixteenth notes

The dotted sixteenth note looks just like the regular sixteenth note with two flags attached. 

Eighth note triplets

We can also use the eighth note and sixteenth note beats in triplets. One eighth note triplet is equal to the duration of one beat. It takes four eighth note triplets to count the duration of a whole note. 

Eighth note triplets are beamed in groups of three and looks like this:

Eighth note triplets

To count this example of four beats you would pronounce “1 – trip – let – 2 – trip – let – 3 – trip – let – 4 – trip – let.” You can practice these rhythms using any of the treble clef notes.

Sixteenth note triplets

Sixteenth note triplets follow the same logic. A single sixteenth triplet is equal to ½ of a count. It takes two sixteenth triplets to make 1 beat, four to make 2 beats and 8 to make the duration of a whole note.

Sixteenth triplets can be beamed together in groups of 3 or 6. They looks like this:

Likewise, we need to add in a few more syllables to account for the added beats in sixteenth triplets. We count this rhythm as “1 – trip – let – and – trip – let – 2 – trip – let – and – trip – let – 3 – trip – let – and – trip – let – 4 – trip – let – and – trip – let.” That is a lot to say! So practice and play it slowly until you get the hang of the rhythm. Using a metronome set at a slow tempo will help you as well.

Eighth rests

There are also rests equal to the duration of eighth and sixteenth notes. The eighth rest is likewise equal to ½ of a count. It takes 2 eighth rests to equal one quarter note. The eighth rest is one eighth the duration of a whole note.  

The eighth rest looks like this:

Eighth rests

It sits in between the second and fourth lines of the staff and features a single flag just like the eighth note. You see this commonly in syncopated passages in music where melodies start on the upbeats instead of the downbeats.

Sixteenth rests

The sixteenth rest lasts for ¼ of a beat or 1/16th of a measure. It is a small duration of time. Like the sixteenth note, the sixteenth rest features two flags and looks like this:

Sixteenth rests

Conclusion

Eighth and sixteenth notes are two subdivisions that are extremely important to understand. Eighth notes receive ½ of a count and sixteenth notes receive ¼ of a count. We can beam eighth and sixteenth notes together in different combinations. 

We can also create triplets out of them. Eighth note triplets are equal to three notes inside of one beat while sixteenth note triplets are equal to six notes inside of one beat. 

Finally, we can make eighth and sixteenth note rests as well. The eighth rest is likewise equal to ½ of a count and the sixteenth rest if equal to ¼ of a count.

You can learn more about all the different types of rhythms and how you can incorporate them into real music using Skoove! With over 400 different lessons on repertoire, music theory, and piano technique you are sure to find something you can enjoy and create with!

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Author of this blog post:

Edward Bond

Eddie Bond is a multi-instrumentalist performer, composer, and music instructor currently based in Seattle, Washington USA. He has performed extensively in the US, Canada, Argentina, and China, released over 40 albums, and has over a decade experience working with music students of all ages and ability levels.

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