What to Know About the Sixteenth Note

Dumdumdumdum, ratatatatat, you likely know the sound of a sixteenth note. You just don’t know that you know it.

Music theory comes with its own complex lexicon of dedicated jargon. You might not know what you’re reading about until you hear an example. Then the lights go on and you realize “Oh, so that’s what they’re talking about.”

Today we’ll be looking at the sixteenth note. Whether you’re brand new to playing an instrument or just looking to brush up on your musical education, you’ll find something of use in our discussion.

1. Why Is It Called A Sixteenth Note?

For better or worse, Western music’s notation is all based around the 4/4 time signature. That means ‘four beats to a measure, based around the quarter note,” if you’re still new to rhythm and meter.

A sixteenth note just means ‘sixteen beats per measure.’ They subdivide a quarter note into four parts. They’re twice as fast as eighth notes, to help illustrate the meter.

2. What Do Sixteenth Notes Look Like?

If you’re reading sheet music, a complete block of sixteenth notes would be four notes connected with two lines at the top.

Like any other musical notation, sixteenth notes can come in any configuration. Certain notes might be omitted, like the second or third beat. These would be written as a single line connected to a double line.

You can have single sixteenth notes, as well. These look like eighth notes with an extra flag.

You can have sixteenth rests, too. These look like eighth note rests with an extra flag, just like the single sixteenth notes.

3. “How Do I Count Sixteenth Notes?”

It’s impossible to over-emphasize the ability to count rhythms in your head, no matter what instrument you’re playing. This helps you get on the same page — or more specifically the same beat — as the people you’re playing with.

Like any other time signature, sixteen notes revolve around the downbeat. That’s One, Two, Three, and Four, if you’re playing in 4/4.

To count sixteenth notes, simply think in your head “One-e-and-ah, Two-e-and-ah, Three-e-and-ah, Four-e-and-ah.” [1] This way we are able to divide the beat into four sections. In this case, we are treating “one”, “e”, “and”, “ah” as 4 sixteenth note. When you finish counting from “One-e-and-ah” to “Four-e-and-ah”. You will finish counting all the 16 sixteenth note.

If it’s one of those funky syncopated rhythms with omitted notes, those would be counted as “One-e-ah,” or “One-and-ah,” respectively.

To help you understand further among whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, and a sixteenth note, you want to understand that:

There is 2 sixteenth note in an eight note. (Use 2 x 1/16 = 1/8)

There is 4 sixteenth note in a quarter note. (Use 4 x 1/16 = 1/4)

There is 8 sixteenth note in a half note. (Use 8 x 1/16 = 1/2)

There is 16 sixteenth note in a whole note. (Use 16 x 1/16 = 1)

4. “Why Do I Need To Know How To Play Sixteenth Notes?”

Music theory is not a prison. In fact, when used correctly, theory sets you free, unlocking the doors of your imagination so you can express your inner self. Like any other note, a sixteenth note is one of the important fundamentals you want to learn. Sixteenth note is essential when you get into higher levels of learning music.

No matter what level of musicianship you’re aspiring to, you should strive to be able to play absolutely anything. Learning sixteenth note will not only help you with rhythmic counting foundation but also it will bring you a new world of understanding how fast music is composed of.

Looking For More Music Theory?

There’s a lot to learn! Like the board game Othello, music theory only takes a minute to learn. You’d need several lifetimes to master it all, however.

Whether you’re just learning sixteenth notes or are rehearsing for your upcoming performance at Carnegie Hall, there is always more to learn and be inspired by. If you haven’t heard of the dotted half note, you also need to learn about it.

Read the rest of our music theory articles today!

Stephanie Su

Started learning music when she was four years old, Stephanie is a music teacher and a music therapist who is highly proficient in Piano, Violin, Guitar, and Ukulele. She likes to learn, teach, and share her music playing experiences.

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