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How to Play Eighth and Sixteenth Notes on Keyboard

You can play a lot of music on the keyboard by using whole, half, and quarter notes. But the rhythm gets even more interesting when you have some notes that play faster than the main beat and when they occur in between the beats.

Divide the beat

To get the hang of playing in between full-beat notes, you need to be able to count the beat in a divided fashion. Try this:

  1. Start counting a 4/4 pulse, saying “1, 2, 3, 4” over and over in time.

  2. When you’re comfortable, try saying “and” between each number: “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and . . . .”

    The 1, 2, 3, 4 are still in the same place, with the and occurring quickly in between.

    Listen to Track 22 to hear this divided counting exercise.

    image0.jpg

In this exercise, you divide the beat into two equal parts: the downbeat and the upbeat. The beat on which you say the number is the downbeat, the primary pulse in your counting. You say the and on the in-between beat, called the upbeat.

Apply the divided beat to eighth and sixteenth notes

When you divide the quarter note into two equal halves, called the eighth note. It’s filled in like the quarter note but has a curly flag design on the stem. When you have more than one eighth note in a row, you connect the stems with a beam.

image1.jpg

The eighth note gets half of a beat, so when you’re counting music that has eighth notes you should use the and between the numbers. As you get comfortable, you can learn to play two notes per beat without counting each one.

You can further divide the eighth note in half; the resulting note is called the sixteenth note. It looks like an eighth note with a double flag or double beam attached. It divides the main pulse or beat into four equal parts. You count that this way: “1-ee-and-ah, 2-ee-and-ah, 3-ee-and-ah, 4-ee-and-ah,” and so on.

image2.jpg

Try keeping a steady beat (clapping or tapping your foot) and practice counting a few bars of quarter notes (1, 2, 3, 4 . . .). Then move to eighth notes, which are twice as fast (1 and, 2 and, 3 and, 4 and . . .). Move next to sixteenth notes, which are twice as fast as the eighth notes (1-ee-and-ah, 2-ee-and-ah, 3-ee-and-ah, 4-ee-and-ah . . .).

Go back to the quarter notes and then try sixteenth notes again; now they’re four times as fast. Be sure your clapping/tapping of the pulse stays the same (on the numbers); only your speaking of the rhythm is changing speed.

Check out this counting exercise.

Feeling confident? Try it the other way around! Keep counting only 1, 2, 3, 4; try clapping quarter notes (one clap for each number spoken) and then move to clapping eighth notes (two even claps for each number spoken).

Don’t change your counting; don’t say “and” in between. Just clap twice for each number spoken. When you can go back and forth between clapping quarter and eighth notes, try going to sixteenth notes (four even claps per number spoken). It will be twice as fast as the eighth notes or four times as fast as your counting. Be sure to keep your counting perfectly steady at all times.

Listen to this alternating counting exercise.

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