The Eighth Note
If you understand the quarter note, the eighth note is easy.
You’ve been hearing 8th notes since you first heard music. They are the glue that holds most popular music together.
If the quarter note represents a beat, the eighth note is exactly 1/2 as much.
Most of the time, music is organized into groupings of accented and unaccented patterns or Beats.
Without these beats, music can seem unorganized and chaotic.
That can be good for special effects, movie scores or avant-garde compositions.
Where’s the beat?
What’s the point?
I can’t relate…
Most music happens in time.
It has a steady pulse or beat that makes us want to move to its’ rhythm. Some music has an obvious beat (EDM) while other styles may be more syncopated and surprising (Jazz).
This steady beat is often given to the Quarter note.
We feel it and count it “on the beat”. If you’ve seen a marching band/drum corp, there is usually one step for every quarter note. Every time your foot goes down, it is a “downbeat”.
This steady beat creates a tempo(speed) that we hear and grasp. No more chaos.
Accented & Unaccented Beats
Likewise, when you lift your leg, there is a moment when your knee is highest called the “upbeat”.
You now have two types of beats: The downbeat and the upbeat.
They are counted the same, but downbeats are stronger.
The upbeats are weaker, unaccented.
These accents will be helpful later as we organize quarter notes into different patterns knows as time signatures.
Musical styles are largely based on how the quarter note is treated.
A ballroom dance known as a Waltz, places an accented beat on the first of every 3 counts.
” ONE 2 3 ONE 2 3 ONE 2 3 “
The dancers take bigger steps on the ONE.. using them as strong beats. The other two beats can be thought of as smaller, unaccented steps.
All 3 beats are quarter notes, but only the first one drives the train.
Disco, on the other hand, has strong down-beats on every beat.
The drummer plays his bass drum on every beat. It’s called, “four on the floor”. In addition to that, he sizzles his high hat cymbals on every upbeat… producing a breathing effect that gives the music a hypnotic groove.
Musicians hated this music, saying it was brainless and simple-minded. But it served its purpose… to make people hit the dance floor.
Same Note – Different Vibe
The important thing to notice is that the quarter note is at the core of these musical styles, and many others.
The quarter note is your starting place for understanding different musical feels and basic rhythms.
No matter how complex the music is, if you understand the quarter note, counting and playing is much easier.
Understanding rhythm is not difficult if you learn the basics. The quarter note is the best place to start.
Now let’s move on and look at Eighth Notes.
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